Work / Opinion

How temporary projects are redefining architecture

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Photo: DOSFOTOS

Temporary architecture is flourishing in our urban public spaces. At first glance it might conjure up images of so-called “pop-ups” – brightly coloured shipping containers, hipster food festivals, supper clubs or even shopping malls like Shoreditch’s Boxpark – an entertaining, and sometimes mistakenly, cheap, photo-ready quick fix. But, there are a group of young, emerging architecture practices, designers and artists that are creating a more holistic type of temporary architecture and suggesting how we might live, work and play more harmoniously together.

These structures, situations and events quickly appear and disappear but they are designed to invest and embed themselves in a community, public space or set of ideas. They open up possibilities, test scenarios and subvert preconceptions of what your cities should be like and how we should behave in them. Their creators, often young and working on their own terms (many eschewing the usual educational routes to qualification), are pushing the boundaries of architecture and taking the city back into their own hands.

Practices such as Turner-Prize winning Assemble, EXYZT, Practice Architecture and The Decorators, to name a few, all share a concern for collaborative, participatory ways of designing, building and making that create animated, deeply rooted places in the neglected, disused and often inaccessible parts of our cities. These architects aren’t daydreamers: they’re making extraordinary things happen.

The Decorators , for example, comprised of a landscape architect, interior designer, architect and psychologist, developed an assorted line-up of strategies and lively events for Poplar’s Chrisp Street Market. As well as new market furniture, they created a radio show (pictured above) and ran a series of debates about the future of the market, and hosted boxing matches with the local boxing club. The recommendations they made as a result of the project are now being taken by Poplar HARCA to help apply for a new round of funding from the GLA.

“The value we see in the temporary lies in its relationship with the long term,” says Mariana Pestana of The Decorators. “What is interesting is that the temporary allows us to test solutions or to interrogate the possibilities of a particular place. Unlike the dominant top-down place-making systems, where somebody decides what the perfect programme should be, the temporary lets the community try it out and listens to their opinion.” For some, EXYZT in particular, a motley team of artists, graphic designers, photographers and filmmakers, temporary architecture has become a way of living: migrating from one project to the next, inhabiting a space and becoming as much a part of the local community as the structure itself. It says: “We want to build new worlds where fiction is reality and games are new rules for democracy. Architecture can expand into a multidisciplinary game where everyone brings his own tools and knowledge to contribute to a collective piece.”

In such projects, the role of the architect is expanding to include storyteller, historian, urban planner, psychologist and communicator. It’s opening the profession up to other disciplines, with multidisciplinary practices, research-based design and self-initiated, self-built projects. Temporary architecture also has much to teach permanent architecture, about testing ideas, breaking the rules, thinking outside the box and making our built environment accessible, open, democratic, unrestrictive and that little bit playful. These should be standards of every project. With temporary architecture, as EYXZT says, “everyone can be the architects of our world.”

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Southwark Lido, EXYZT (photo: Julie Guiches)