Fitzroy is one of Melbourne’s oldest suburbs and the passage of time is on display. Asphalt roads still have bluestone curbs and gutters, reminders of the horse-and-cart era. So it is appropriate to find an interior that acknowledges the cycle of life, an investigation of reuse and reinterpretation.

Zedi Hair salon is named after a type of Buddhist monument, a bell-shaped structure around which people pray. Zedis are solid and have a relic buried inside, a small piece of bone, a tooth or even some of the Buddha’s hair.

The name was the client’s inspiration, and Phooey have manifested the form over two levels.

Very little has been built in the space. Downstairs some shelving separates off a reception area, and a raised timber floor constructed over the existing concrete slab defines the main hair cutting area. Upstairs the zedi appears as negative space, cut out from the right-angled junction of two new walls. Mirrors line the cut, completing the symmetry of the zedi form and helping to direct light down a void to the ground floor.

The bottom of the zedi, visible at the ground floor, is a decorative ceiling rose formed from plastic and patrons’ hair. Sheets of laminated transparent plastic, fused to contain hair clippings, are attached to cables that radiate out from the void, completing the bell shape of the zedi. The effect is of a delicate, luminous veil, subtly coloured with curls of various shades.

Then there are the walls of restitched lino.

Step 1. Take up the old vinyl floor. (Why? Underneath are old floorboards, relics from a time of plenty, prior to today’s awareness of limited resources. Old timbers from big trees – precious. decorative and warm.)

Step 2. Cut the vinyl into little pieces of identical size and reinstall vertically, as cladding. (Imagine buying new vinyl flooring and cutting and cladding an interior wall with it.)

Phooey are looking at what exists, with an eye to how it can be reordered, rearranged, reclassified. A rearrangement of the available material means low embodied energy and minimized waste. Vinyl flooring is a hard-wearing product that lasts for many years. Why throw it out? This reuse has encouraged creativity. What was once on the floor has moved to the wall. Where could it go next?

Most architectural designers don’t ask, what can we use this for? when looking at existing building fabric, let alone, how could this be reused in the future? when designing something new. The original vinyl floor was not designed for disassembly. It was hard work to remove and difficult to salvage.

For the rolled-up couch, the carpet, unlike the linoleum came from elsewhere. Phooey visited a second-hand carpet warehouse and imagined new life for the stuff – not as a floor surface, but as slightly floppy cylinders of colour. Now imagine buying new carpet and rolling it up for a couch. Perverse. To use new carpet would not be cost-effective, but buy it from the recycling depot and it justifies itself.
The privacy screen dividing off the hair washing area is made of empty shampoo bottles, slightly deformed by the absence of pressure from the liquid shampoo, strung up on cables. Is the shampoo-bottle screen junk? Or art? What we would once have thrown away is now decoration.

The aesthetic of low energy is different from what we are used to. Like Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917 (a urinal purchased from a manufacturer and signed by the artist), the shampoo bottles have not undergone any process to transform them; they have simply changed context. They have not been melted down and recast, or cut up and reconfigured; they have just been washed out and strung up. They are still shampoo bottles.

Phooey are sending a sharply focused message about waste with the hair sculpture and the screen of shampoo bottles. The screen is not a display of abundance and excess (like the more familiar rows and rows of unopened “product”; suggesting an infinite resource) but an acknowledgment of the environmental cost of production and the dilemma of reuse and recycling.

This may represent a giant leap in the way we think about recycling – that decoration on its own is a valid use for a recycled material in building.

While the repurposed line and carpet perform a utilitarian function, the hair in the ceiling rose performs only the function of decoration. It’s not necessary for the operation of the business; it doesn’t facilitate the process of cutting hair. Is it grotesque? What can one do with cut hair? This is waste reconditioning. We are being taught a lesson about our own way of seeing and our own way of life. One day, what was beautiful but unsustainable will look ugly.

A sculptural attitude – looking at a material’s formal and functional potential, without regard for its cost or what it was originally designed to do – is luxurious, a lavish way to design. The eye looks at something and has free association:

a door becomes a table, some rolls of carpet a couch, lockets of hair an art piece.

There is a touch of Dada here – the art of changing perception rather than making a new object. There is also a clear message to the community at large – here is the result of our lifestyle, this is the reality of our cycle of production and consumption.


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