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Social venture puts community into the business of creativity

The duo behind Auckland company Critical Pixels do some pretty cool things. They’ll make a 3D model of your product idea, create a website or dream up an identity for your brand. But their ultimate goal is to upskill young people and communities with a maker space based on open source technologies and a social enterprise philosophy.

The co-founders, creative director Rui Peng and ‘tech guru’ Andy Crowe started the venture late last year, made possible because their wives work.

Peng did architecture at Auckland University while Crowe was a youth worker for four years and is completing an education degree.

They describe Critical Pixels as half business and half social enterprise. Peng is a firm advocate of allowing citizens to shape their spaces and communities, with design facilitating that process, not dictating outcomes.

Crowe wants open source to get youth involved in the creative process and empower the crowd to come along for the ride.

Rui Peng (left) and Andy Crowe

“When I did architecture at university, I was incredibly frustrated that students are stuck in a cycle of doing degrees and finding jobs and doing work for the one percent who can afford those services,” says Peng.

“Young people might not have jobs, but have a lot to offer. There’s all of these social challenges. They have all of this talent. So what is design and what is a good architect?”

Peng and Crowe built three 3D printing machines, taking to Google to learn how. Their modest studio of only a few metres square sits in a corner of the Roskill Coffee Project communith space in central Auckland, and their door is always open to young people to see how 3D printing works.

They’ve already got several creative projects under their belts, including 3D printing fairtrade Easter egg moulds for the Roskill Coffee Project and crafting the organisation’s branding.

They also 3D printed designer heels for an Australian shoe designer and retrofitted Auckland ceramic artist Gidon Bing’s studio.

The pair hopes to open the maker space as soon as possible to expand into the current model into a fully fledged studio accessible to the wider community.

Amanda Sachtleben is an Auckland writer and social media type, who's also Idealog's former tech editor and business journalist.

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