Last year (2011) the students who did my Popular Architecture and Design course at the University of Melbourne examined kebab shops in Melbourne. This year they looked at another similarly “invisible” and seemingly banal building type — launderettes (the English term) or Laundromats (the American term) in Melbourne.
Kebab shops and launderettes represent “third places” (in contrast to first and second places — home and work respectively) as described by the American urban sociologist Ray Oldenburg in his book The Great Good Place. He argues that, despite being taken for granted, they are central to urban vitality.
Working in pairs, the architecture students were asked to document a launderette in Melbourne, which included the following basic information:
• The name and address of the launderette.
• A plan of the launderette, including fittings and furniture.
• A photograph of the front of the launderette during the day.
• A photograph of the front of the launderette at night.
• A photograph of the launderette showing it in relation to the other shops in the street.
• Photographs of the sides of the launderette (if they were accessible).
• Photographs of the interior of the launderette.
• Photographs of any advertising, signs, etc.
• A brief description of the launderette.
• Comments by the owner/manager and any customers.
Launderettes in Melbourne: An Architectural Survey contains the above information exactly as the students gave it to me — errors and all. To a large extent, the value of this work is being able to compare 37 different launderettes in Melbourne at a glance and seeing their similarities and differences.
Hopefully Launderettes In Melbourne, along with Kebab Shops in Melbourne before it, will encourage a greater appreciation and understanding of these “third places” locally.