The co-founders of Critical, started in 2013, saw patterns in the community around them: gentrification, and creative cultural capital not being utilised, Peng says.
“[We] co-create products, spaces and experiences with communities, and cultivate creative leaders using design thinking and emerging technologies,” he says.
Last year Critical was approached by the sustainability manager at Fonterra who wanted help with their abundance of plastic waste. They came up with the idea to develop the waste into material sheets able to be used like plywood and then turned into functional products, all done in their Mt Roskill workshop.
“We wanted a useful and sexy product. For Fonterra we made coffee tables and a bar leaner,” Peng says.
He says Critical want to keep developing the project.
“By #recyclingmadesexy we hope to create desirability and demand for problem plastics polluting our coastlines, landfills and waterways, and in turn offer paid apprenticeships from which we can scaffold designers…we want to work with new or established brands and develop unique design products.”
They have also done projects with Auckland Tourism, Events & Economic Development (ATEED) and youth development organisations.
Peng says he and Crowe have a personal connection to Mt Roskill, having lived in the area for several years, and working on Critical projects with locals from the diverse, low socioeconomic community such as refugees and migrants.
“It’s the neighborhood we’re proud to work in and call home…it’s a special place,” Peng says.
“We want to foster entrepreneurial spirit while enabling lifelong/transferable skills…develop career pathways and leadership capacity for local young people and families otherwise being failed by the system.”
Critical’s workshop is based at the low-decile Wesley Intermediate School, where they have a partnership with the school, and design work is incorporated into the curriculum.
Crowe says the design thinking process helps teach empathy and problem solving.
With Crowe a teacher and Peng an architect, and with a writer and visual artist jumping onboard, Peng says their differences create a stronger team.
“Our approaches look different so there is discussion. It’s a space of compromise, though we have a culture of embracing conflict.”
Peng and Crowe’s values and philosophies influence the work they do.
“We want to help others…we’ve grown up from self-awareness and the awareness of privilege in middle New Zealand where we have a stable home and value education. It’s a type of social justice or even activism.”