24 November 2010
From Oliver Wainwright's Blog
Last week I was shown images of yet another temporary pop-up store – by an established practice, for a very established global brand. I was regaled with tales of its “innovative use of everyday materials,” from palettes to PVC shrink wrap. I nodded politely and feigned enthusiasm.
It reminded me of several issues raised at the previous week’s Rip it Up lecture at London Metropolitan University, which I was drafted in to chair, where two very young groups of recent architecture graduates presented similar temporary projects to a full house of architects, eager to learn the mysterious ways of the pop-up.
For, despite their tender years, these two fledgling practices had succeeded in generating such media buzz around their work, that the whole world was keen to know their secrets. Paloma Gormley and Lettice Drake’s Practice Architecture twice converted the rooftop of a Peckham multi-storey car park into a temporary café, which saw 30,000 people visit in the three months it was open. They quickly became darlings of the glitter- and Twitterati and were flooded with corporate sponsorship offers, both things which rather put them off doing it again.
But is there any difference? I think there is. Although Practice and Cineroleum claim not to be politicised, there is an implicit critique in their propositions, a demonstration that people can come together and make something, with neither client nor budget. It represents an alternative system in the production of urban social space, operating outside the conventional development machine.
The danger comes when such temporary, interim projects, are commissioned by the very developers they are operating against, cynically used as a method of raising land value or generating PR – as happened with the strangely cancelled competitions for the Leadenhall site and Noho Square.
To see the future of all this, and the slippery slope of the pop-up, we need only look across the water. I was recently talking to Wouter Vanstiphout, professor of the new Design as Politicsdepartment at TU Delft, who laments the situation in the Netherlands, in which the so-called “oppositional” position has long been institutionalised. “Temporary projects are no longer a coquettish thing on the side, in the margins of urban planning,” he said. “They are now an integral and extremely important part of the developer’s toolbox, a really professionalised and large scale form of gentrification.”
As so often in matters urban, we are only just beginning to catch up with our Dutch neighbours. So, next time you see a pop-up, look for the logo. It may not be what it seems.