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Pop-up urbanism – a new term?

Cover of the book "Urban Interventions - Personal projects of public space".

by Valentin Schipfer

I’d say no. There even exists a specific blog – where I found most of my inspiration for this entry – and a recently published book on this type of urban interventions. They are taking place in almost every city of the planet. Here I want to depict just a small selection of projects. All of them have something in common: They try to revitalize distressed or vacant places. At first I want to describe my latest, personal pop-up experience in Berlin – thanks to the Siberian high Dieter.

The last weeks have been some of the coldest in Germany’s meteorologic history with records like minus 28 degrees at night. This wasn’t only a good chance to go ice-skating but also to a pop-up rave on the frozen river Spree. Invited by a monthly changing mailing list I was lucky to receive one of the invitations for this unannounced party. It popped-out on a frozen backwater channel between a junkyard on the one bank and an abandoned factory on the other. While people were skating and dancing on the 30 centimeters frozen surface, the deejays played space and italo disco. In addition to the junkyard’s flood-lightning, the environment was dipped into multicolored disco lights hidden behind some trees. I don’t know if it was the hot wine punch or this charming atmosphere which made me wear a splendid smile.

This party on the ice is only one example for taking advantage of the frozen water as a new layer of public space. Some days ago the pop-up city blog reported about a similar intervention in the city of Leiden in the Netherlands, where a clever gastronomer used the frozen canal to set up his café.

René Boer

Café on the ice in Leiden. (by René Boer)

One might think now that pop-up urbanism is only possible with frozen rivers. The next example shows that it is not. The urban office Raumlabor carried out the mission Hovercraft – Lifting Modernism. In order to find a temporary space for a student dormitory’s festivity an inflatable, translucent membrane wrapped the terrace underneath the modernistic building. Thereby the semipublic ambient was transformed to semiprivate. For three days the pneumatic hall gave home to concerts, speeches, dinners, a conference day and a party. Similar projects are done by Plastique-Fantastique.

The Cube could be seen as the natural counterpart to the Hovercraft. Instead of popping-up beneath, it stays on top of a series of European landmarks like the Parc du Cinquantenaire in Brussels, a mountain cliff in Switzerland or the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana in Rome. According to the pop-up blog The Cube was developed by Belgian event agency Absolute Blue and designed by Italian architects PARK Associati. It is a fully transparent structure with laser-cut aluminium walls conceived to dismantle easily. Inside, the dining room for 18 guests serves lunch and dinner prepared with locally sourced products by local chefs. The kitchen all equipped with Electrolux  appliances is at the center and allows the guests to interact with the chef.

In London they even go a step further and set up world’s first pop-up shopping mall, called Boxpark . As it is stated on their website Boxpark strips and refits shipping containers to create unique, low cost, low risk, “box shops”. Put them together with a unique mix of international fashion and lifestyle brands, galleries and cafés and you’ve got the world’s first ‘pop-up’ mall – so named because its basic building blocks are inherently movable: they can, and will, literally pop up anywhere in the world. For the next five years it is based in the heart of East London. The object was designed by Waugh Thisleton Architects.

While it is all about shopping in London, Vancouver prefers to relax in public realm. In Summer 2011, downtown Vancouver was spiced up by Picnurbia , a big yellow wave for relaxation creating an inland zone for people to gather and picnic in the heart of downtown. As stated on their website: This undulating landscape provides spaces for people to hang out and play in alternative formations, providing a new experience of urban picnicking. Picnurbia was designed by Loose Affiliates and endorsed by the City of Vancouver. The project aims to address the shortage of decent public spots for gathering, relaxing and picnicking.

We got a similar pop-up in my hometown Vienna. Designed by PPAG architects the so-called Enzis have become a part of Museumquarter’s brand. The glogg stands are made of single elements with the vision to use them also in other combinations or individually. The special geometry enables a lot of different formation types. In summer they invite the visitors to sit, lie, chill, chat, eat and relax on them. In winter they give home either to a wine punch site or the freezing cinema.

In London a collective of young artists, designers and architects try to bring new life to neglected urban public spaces by turning these into some unexpected, creative happenings. In one of their projects, they turned an old petrol station into an extravagant cinema, the Cineroleum. Enclosed by an ornate curtain strung from the forecourt roof, the Cineroleum hosted screenings from sundown four nights a week. The Cineroleum was an improvisation of the decadent interiors that greeted audiences during cinema’s golden age.

For a more individual end, New York-based Alexandra Pulver invented the Pop-up lunch bag. This pop-up furniture helps to change public urban places into temporary lunch spots. The bag can be instantly transformed into a seat and attached to all sorts of fences with two solid clips. It is easy to take and can be removed when you’re done.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these examples of urban intervention and pop-up urbanism. Maybe you even got inspired to put your own pop-up idea into practice. Anyhow, I am going to keep my eyes open for you here in Berlin.

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1 Comment

  1. rjepson says:

    Thanks for a thought-provoking and informative post! But they are also potential conflict spaces within a right to the city (difference) context. Who creates / owns / participates in these new spaces? Who benefits? What governance models are evolving to allow such spaces to develop and be developed? Who is financing it?

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