Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Burb Mechanics from Nüüd Studio

Nüüd Studio
21.03.18 - 24.03.18
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The brainchild of Kerli Valk & Brad Mitchell of Nüüd Studio, Burb Mechanics was an exhibition celebrating the iconic materials and distinct design quirks of the Australian suburban sprawl.

Photo by Kjetil Andreas Knutsen

Imagined as an investigation into the diversity and design potential of ‘suburban proprietary’ materials through a crafted collection of test home furniture, Burb Mechanics presented ordinary as the suburban extraordinary; a movement from the ready-made to an approach of a contemporary inventive.

Part of the 2018 Melbourne Design Week program, functional furniture installed throughout the Clear Box transformed picket fences, scalloped soap dishes, and metal post anchors into inspired design pieces. Accompanying each of the nine main furniture objects was a how-to catalogue, giving beautifully illustrated instructions on assembly of each piece using off-the-shelf construction materials. These DIY manuals encouraged adaption and alteration, encouraging a culture of social making, sharing and ownership.

Adding a visual art dimension, the exhibition also featured a looped video of a slow drive down a suburban street, filling the space with the passing sounds of whirring lawnmowers, chirping birds, the thwack-thwack-thwack of rotating sprinklers, car engines turning over, and neighbourly catch-ups over the fence.

In the spirit of celebrating the ‘burbs, on opening night the Nüüd crew offered a free backyard barbecue, considerately catering for all diets but bringing a distinctly laid-back Australiana vibe to the celebration of high-design.

To cap off the exhibition, Kerli and Brad hosted a free afternoon workshop on making a style-magazine-worthy stool using joinery edging and industrial strapping. Providing all the materials, the workshop was also an opportunity to talk about how design and architecture can be functional, beautiful, affordable, and accessible at the same time.

Interview with Nüüd Studio

Kerli and Brad were kind enough to sit down with us and give a bit more insight into their practice, how Burb Mechanics came about, and what they’re planning next.

Q: How did the idea for Burb Mechanics come about?

A: The very first ideas of furniture made from off shelf items started within Brad’s thesis development. The thesis project explored a baroque stage of suburbanism — a retail test facility of urban and architecture scaled environments, offering people the chance to explore and rework their surrounds. It was all about creating an accessible kind of urbanism. Burb Mechanics evolved out of that same idea.

Q: How did the concept for this exhibition — especially combining the different elements of the furniture, the brochures, and the video work — come about?

A: The overall concept for the exhibition was to be a stage where the forgotten, everyday obscure and wonderful suburban creations stand in the spotlight. We wanted to emphasise the richness and beauty of daily life.

In terms of the furniture / objects, each object had a different story of development. This included daily hardware store visits (featuring quite a few sausage rolls!), and endless walks and talks on suburban matter, materiality, and potential. Some objects were driven by one singular iconic element (a picket, a paver, or soap holder), and others out of combining different materials. For each of them we tested multiple designs in 3D first. We tested at least 100 different ideas, and by the 3rd week of January we had most items developed in 3D and we hired a studio space to start prototyping.

The exhibition design combined 5 central elements:

1. The bricks. We liked the idea of using one of the most common building materials to create plinths for objects.

2. The video. Having a panning streetscape with glimpses of sounds suggesting the activity beyond front fence, linking the exhibition space to the places it referenced.

3. The curtain. It was a dramatic backdrop — something to make the ordinary sing.

4. The graphics. Our hope was to initiate a culture in making, by providing visitors with DIY manuals for each object. Manuals were presented as suggestions and allowed customisation to allow to reflect maker preferences and individual needs.

5. The lighting. Stage-style projector lights with pink hues were a perfect addition in adding glamour and a kind of atmospheric presence to the space. Elevating the ordinary…

Q: How did you get involved in the Melbourne Design Week program, and how did that land you at Testing Grounds?

A: Melbourne Design Week was an opportunity to put ourselves out there with a project and a challenge to ourselves to create something new. We applied to be in MDW without a space confirmed and with only one product finalised on paper. It was a risk that paid off with a lot of faith from those at MDW. Testing Grounds was recommended to us by our friend Ceri Hann.

Q: Obviously Burb is led by Nüüd Studio (Brad and Kerli), but who else was involved, either in the concept more generally or in the exhibition/workshop at Testing Grounds?

A: We had some helping hands with graphics from our good friend Thandi Stirling and our excellent Estonian community in Melbourne, who helped with the opening BBQ. Kristina Roots assisted with finishing touches to some of the products on display (and also participated in our workshop!). Callam Fletcher gave us some very helpful advice for editing our copy. Temitope Adesina took great photos on our opening night, and Kjetil Andreas Knutsen took beautiful final shots of all of our pieces. Very grateful to all of these people who helped.

Q: Did you get any media coverage or reviews? How did you line that up?

We were approached by Ray Edgar from The Age to be interviewed over the phone for an article covering a number of the exhibitions in Melbourne Design Week with similar themes of DIY, individual empowerment and celebration of the ordinary reworked to become something of significance. The article was published the weekend before MDW week and described our project well as well as featuring an image of one of our products. This lead to another publication, Belle Magazine, publishing an image in the Design News section of their April issue. Both approached us from the Melbourne Design Week website and coverage.

Q: What challenges did the project throw up — both technically and personally?

A: The hardest challenge was limitation of time. The proposal for Burb Mechanics was confirmed as part of MDW only in the last week of December 2017, which left us just three months to develop the project all the way from one sketchy idea to a finished concept and a full exhibition. And both working in different design practices meant doing all the development work, and producing the items, within three months was a lot of late nights!

Q: What benefit was Testing Grounds as a site for this project? Was there stuff the infrastructure allowed you to do that you might have not otherwise been able to do?

A: The Clear Box was a perfect space for Burb Mechanics . The ease of hanging with magnets especially — set up of the exhibition was only a day, and would definitely had taken three times longer without the infrastructure. The hanging frames also made it easy to organise space and add posters to complement the objects. It was a bonus that the projector was also available. We hadn’t initially intended to do a video, and only thought of it seeing it was available in the list of equipment that could be booked at Testing Grounds. From there, our initial idea of background music developed to a looping video combining the incidental suburban sounds (like crying baby, saw, birds, barking dogs, cars, conversations, shower singers, kettles etc. ) and excepts from opera with a looping video of suburban streets, gates and front fences. That was great, because conceptually adding the image to the sound connected back to our initial ideas about putting the textures of suburbia into the spotlight.

Q: Where to now for Burb Mechanics? Has the project opened any doors or sparked any projects in other aspects of your practice?

A: Being our first self-initiated public exhibition, Burb Mechanics has given us the confidence that we can lead our own design path. Working intensely on the exhibition sparked lots of conceptual beginnings for future projects, including heaps that didn’t make it into this exhibition. We have also been approached by a bunch of other designers and architects with some potential collaborative projects for the future, that we have started exploring. In short, it seeded ideas for lots of other projects, and encouraged us to continue exploring our own design philosophies.


Nüüd studio give huge thanks to the sponsors that made Burb Mechanics possible: Brickworks Building Products, Porta Timber, and the National Gallery of Victoria.

Words by Trent Griffiths.