Pop-up architecture

‘Pop-up’ is one of the buzzwords of the late noughties, with pop-up bars, cafes and shops being set up (and then taken down again) all over the nation.





Serpentine Pavilion 2013 © Photo by George Rex

Of course, architecture has found ways to express itself through the pop-up too. Its temporary nature is a central part of the pop-up’s appeal, meaning this type of architecture can often be just that little bit braver than that of buildings that are designed to be around for a long time. Examples of pop-ups range from very functional buildings to those that are designed to provoke, amaze and astonish.

As you might expect, there are lots of pop-ups in London. The most famous example, of course, is the Serpentine Gallery, which, perhaps unconsciously leading the way for the pop-up movement, has been commissioning a temporary summer pavilion by a leading architect since the year 2000.

Last year visionary Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto occupied some 350 square metres in front of the gallery with a structure made from lots of white steel poles arranged in a complicated latticework pattern, creating, in Fujimoto’s words, 'a transparent terrain' that provokes questions about how the built environment can be merged with nature. A multipurpose space with a café inside, from certain points, the pavilion blended into the classical structure of the Serpentine Gallery, giving the appearance that visitors exploring the structure were hanging in mid-air.

seerpentine 2014

Serpentine Pavilion 2013 © Photo by George Rex

This year’s pavilion has been designed by the Chilean architect Smiljan Radic who has designed it as a cylindrical structure, resting on large quarry stones that resemble a shell. On selected Friday nights between July and September the Pavilion will become the stage for the Galleries’ Park Nights series, and Radic has claimed that ‘At night, thanks to the semi-transparency of the shell, the amber tinted light will attract the attention of passers-by like lamps attracting moths'.

The Filling Station © Patrick Collins

A less ‘artistic’ pop-up is the Filling Station, next to Kings Cross station. Once a petrol station, it has now been transformed into a canal-side café. Key features of a petrol station’s distinctive architecture can still be seen - for example, the roof of the old forecourt acts as a canopy outside the restaurant and the restaurant and bar itself are in the station’s old kiosk. Architects Carmody Groarke have designed the structure in a way that will mean that passers-by can’t help but notice it. Large neon letters show the restaurant’s name – which has an obvious double meaning. Fibreglass walls can be illuminated from the inside at night and reveal shadows of activity during the day. The architects have been mindful of the temporary nature of the structure when selecting materials: the scaffolding and fibreglass cladding used can all be recycled at the end of the project.

The Shed © Alan Stanton

On the other side of the river, The Shed, by Haworth Tompkins is an impermanent but eye-catching addition to London’s South Bank. Acting as a temporary replacement for the Cottesloe Theatre room, the bright red auditorium with its four imposing chimneys cuts an almost menacing figure outside London’s National Theatre. Its effect is to bewilder, to delight and always to engage. Designed to not blend in at one of the capitals most iconic spots, its powerful tomato-red colour certainly grabs your attention against the more neutral colours of the brutalist theatre and its rough-hewn timber boards offer a stark contrast with the board-formed concrete of its neighbour. Again, careful thought has been given to the impact of this temporary structure on the environment. The four chimneys help to draw air through the structure naturally. Theatregoers sit on reclaimed chairs and recycled materials were used for all the cladding and surfaces.

Folly for a Flyover © Matthew Black

Folly for a Flyover was a pop-up public space created in a disused undercroft in Hackney Wick. Local residents and visitors were able to enjoy what was previously a neglected space for nine weeks, which attracted over 40,000 visitors. By day the Folly hosted a cafe, workshops, events and boat trips exploring the surrounding waterways. At night audiences congregated on the building’s steps to watch screenings. The Folly posed as a building trapped under the motorway and its roof pushed up between the traffic on the motorway above. It was led by Assemblestudio and was hand-built by a team of mostly volunteers. At the end of the nine-week period the materials used in the project were reused as new facilities for a local primary school.

Also in SE1, design collective EXYZT showed just what can be done with space lying empty as it ‘awaits development’. Inspired by the 1830 Beer Act, according to which anyone could apply for a licence and transform their own home into, quite literally, a public house, EXYZT created the ReUNION at 100 Union Street, something they said 'was an illustration of what could be a public house beyond the idea of a pub'. Created primarily of timber, it was created not only to be an ‘adult’ space, but one that members of the public of all ages could enjoy. There was a paddling pool and bar, and the site hoardings outside featured bold lettering with the name of the pub, and lay partially open so that passers-by could see the activity inside. It has, of course, now gone.  

Glastonbury Pyramid Stage 2011

Glastonbury Pyramid Stage 2011 © URG

Music festivals often epitomise the temporary nature of pop-up architecture. Even in its early days in the 70s, Glastonbury’s main stage was a great example of temporary pop-up architecture. Festivals nowadays now seem to represent pop-up cities and often showcase truly impressive planning and infrastructure. In 2014 Glastonbury will be a pop-up city for around 200,000 festival goers making it the seventh-largest city in the south of England, if only for a couple of days!

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