How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good

Want to use your design skills for social good? Then Sean Rodrigo offers a great example to follow. We profile the London-based artist and look at some of his key projects to date.

If you’ve recently visited Walthamstow, the creative hub in east London, you may have noticed some unusual-looking food donation banks dotted around the place. On close inspection, they reveal themselves to be meticulously designed miniature models of well-known local buildings, such as Manze’s pie and mash shop, The Nag’s Head pub and the Wood Street Indoor Market, embellished with 3D-printed details and solar lighting.

It’s the kind of highly original and inventive art project that puts a smile on people’s faces and makes life on a dull and dreary morning that little bit more bearable. But it’s not just about beautifying the area. These “mini food banks” have collected over 6,000 non-perishable food items for the local PL84U Al-Suffa charity.

And for the artist behind them, Sean Rodrigo, this is not just a one-off side project. Indeed, the Australian-born creative who’s lived in London since 2017 is on a mission to use art, design and technology to tackle social issues in his adopted community.

Roots in advertising

Born in Melbourne, Sean studied multimedia at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. His grandparents were artists, and Sean has always enjoyed drawing, but his childhood dream was always to work in TV and advertising.

After honing his skills as a freelance writer and director in Sydney’s TV advertising scene, he moved to London in 2017. First settling in Fulham before finding a more vibrant creative home in Walthamstow, he worked with brands including The X Factor, Nintendo, Xbox, and Lenovo.

How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good
How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good
How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good
How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good

But it was the purchase of a 3D printer in 2019 that truly unlocked Sean’s artistic potential and set him on a path of using cutting-edge technology for social good. The COVID-19 lockdowns gave Sean the time to fully immerse himself in 3D printing, laser cutting and other digital fabrication techniques.

Social mission

His first project involved turning a William Morris bust into 600 hand-cast sculptures for local key worker children to paint during the lockdown after the renowned William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow was forced to close its doors.

This was just the beginning of Sean’s mission to democratise art and design, making it accessible and inclusive for all.

In June 2023, he launched The Fixatorium, a multidisciplinary studio in nearby Leyton. “We’re on a mission to fix grassroots social problems using art, design and technology for social good,” proclaims its mission statement. And Sean is putting these words into action, one innovative installation at a time.

Another of his notable creations is his Doggy Rest Stop: an eye-catching sculpture of a life-sized Golden Retriever that incorporates a 3D-printed dog poop bag dispenser and a steel water bowl. Located at the Leytonstone Branch of the Walthamstow Toy Library in Langthorn Park, it serves the dual purpose of enhancing the park’s visual appeal while promoting responsible pet ownership and community engagement.

How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good
How Sean Rodrigo is turning Walthamstow into a mini metropolis of good

Within his Leyton studio, Sean has amassed a number of cutting-edge machines that enable him to prototype and build quickly. These include 3D printing machines that materialise plastic, a tiny robotic CNC machine that turns shapes into plywood, and plastics recycling machines that shred and extrude bottles and bottle caps into new shapes.

It’s a case of Heath Robinson meets Banksy, with an ethos of the arts and craft movement popularised in the 19th century by Walthamstow resident William Morris.

Sean’s forthcoming project promises to push the boundaries further in terms of what art and design can achieve. He plans to convert a neglected red phone box into a greenhouse installation busting with greenery and blooms of flowers, with a self-watering 3D printed planter system of his own design.

Located outside the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow, the installation will not only pay homage to the great man but also grow herbs and flowers for local food banks.

Democratising design

Like Morris two centuries earlier, Sean endeavours to democratise access to design and art, making it inclusive and accessible for all. His installations, which seamlessly merge nature and urban settings, are a testament to this ethos. For example, the red phone box conversion project is set to transform a once mundane and neglected urban artefact into a vibrant, useful and ecologically beneficial structure.

By combining technological innovation, sustainability and social engagement in unique and powerful ways, Sean’s work challenges conventions, provokes thought and inspires a more optimistic perspective on the potential for grassroots art to drive positive change.

With his boundless creativity and unwavering commitment to making a difference, Sean is transforming the streets of Walthamstow into a mini-metropolis of good.