Why Pop-Up Spaces Unite Talent [My Ideal City]

Why Pop-Up Spaces Unite Talent [My Ideal City]

PSFK chats with Adam Katz of Imprint Projects, about how pop-up culture is impacting urban development.

  • 12 may 2013

As part of our series looking at the future of cities, PSFK reached out to experts to get their take on key trends we’ve identified that are currently affecting urban environments. Adam Katz runs the creative agency Imprint Projects, which works to develop innovative brand platforms for marketing and communications, and encourages cultural patronage and sincere, positive social engagement. He spoke with about how pop-up spaces are being experimented with to be quickly deployed and assembled to host temporary events like performances and films, connecting with an ever-changing audience, highlighting locally sourced content and bringing cultural enrichment into people’s lives.

In what ways can pop-up venues inject vitality into a city?

As a retail concept, the pop-up has been popularized because there is the potential for big, short-term returns with relatively low-risk. A company can test new markets, and build enthusiasm around a product release or a seasonal story.

Alternatively, our work organizing events and developing temporary marketing venues has always attempted to upend this pop-up model.

We have set up temporary cultural venues and resource centers that attempt to share meaningful skills, create new collaborative partnerships, and build community in the long-term.

Our clients are invested in brand building around shared values. This has allowed us to create a letterpress and silkscreen studio, a photography workshop, a roving bicycle resource center, a sound gallery, a shared studio and exhibition space for young women, a 30-day bookstore and performance venue, and countless “gallery” spaces to accommodate exhibitions, classes, film screenings, and parties.

After first working within traditional venues (galleries, museums, concert halls, etc.), we have found that temporary projects can sometimes be more effective at encouraging social engagement among a diverse population.

These “pop-up” spaces have the capacity to disrupt expectations of a particular street or neighborhood, while uniting talented people from around the city (and beyond).

Can you share any other creative design solutions that experiment with introducing new experiences to urban life?

The theatre, in both ancient Greece and Elizabethan England, grew out of religious festival celebrations and itinerant troupes of performers. It has always been a creative form that adopted various venues, some temporary and impromptu. Before there were movie theaters in every town, films were often shown in the street or within “traveling cinemas.” Since the early 20th century, there have been temporary “pop-up” open air cinemas. This is still a common practice today, from India to Austin.

Architects and designers may have, at some point in history, only occupied themselves with building timeless, marble temples for culture.

But I’m inclined to believe that creative people have always been interested in how to create temporary venues, take over public spaces, and insert art into the “urban” fabric.

As for inspiring examples of “pop-up” culture, I think these are more interesting models for temporary programs that “bring cultural enrichment into people’s lives”:

Spacebuster by Raumlabor

Occupy Wall Street

Looking forward, how do you see pop-up culture influencing urban development?

To over-simplify things: More and more people are moving into cities around the world. Governments seem less capable of providing social and cultural services. Multinational corporations have accumulated / concentrated more power than ever before.

One trend we acknowledge is that global brands are compelled to act as both citizens and patrons, and some businesses are beginning to adopt practices that integrate cultural/social responsibility platforms. We think this is great.

In the future, more temporary cultural venues will be developed by brands, and these will increasingly involve arts programming, education, and new participatory technologies alongside entertainment.

In addition to many of the programs that we have worked on, I think that the BMW Guggenheim LabThe Creators Project, and the GE Garages are just a few interesting examples of how brand initiated pop-ups can invigorate communities and support new creative work. (But, it begs the question: At what cost does our society allow corporations to become the primary patron of this activity?)

Generally speaking, how are city planners and developers reconsidering their long-term thinking towards cultural activities?

It’s no secret that creative communities are an important part of a healthy urban ecosystem and a contributing factor to a successful business sector.

With this in mind, real estate developers and urban planners, along with entrepreneurs, brand marketers and ad guys, seem especially interested in creating physical spaces for cultural programming.

Museums and theaters are no longer the only venues for arts programming. In fact, these same institutions are now more inclined to go out into their communities: sometimes finding greater success by temporarily educating, performing, exhibiting within the public sphere. One could also argue that artists are now working more in the social and public sphere – outside of the gallery and their studios. We have noticed that serious fine artists are increasingly willing and eager to engage with business in a mutually beneficial context. And so, as people imagine a city of the future, it is one that can accommodate a variety of cultural programs, in flexible venues, alongside companies that benefit from that activity.

The simplest version of this is the shopping mall that includes a rotating art gallery and a performance space with a cafe (perhaps something like Urban Outfitters Space 1520). A more ambitious version might be realized by Tony Hsieh (Zappos) and his community-focused development in Las Vegas called The Downtown Project. Technology will increasingly become an important part of this, and there are exciting projects underway where the city surface itself is engineered as a venue for rich media content display, interactivity, and adaptability.

We are working as a consultant for several exciting projects where the “permanent” built city is being designed to accommodate an impermanent and evolving notion of cultural programming. We are taking a long view of infrastructure, and attempting to create spaces that will adapt to unforeseen community needs.

What three things would you include in your perfect city?

Green Space: Parks and natural beauty

Common Space: Places for public assembly

Smart Transportation: Mass transit system and bike-friendly roads

Thanks Adam!

Imprint Projects


Q. What cultural experience would you like to see pop up temporarily in your city?

Submit your answer now at the MyIdealCity site – or tweet your suggestion using #MyIdealCity and #Maximizedspace


Over the next 6 months, PSFK and a team of experts imaging the future of a city will be asking you what you envision as ‘My Ideal City’. Tweet us your ideas using the hashtag of the week and view all the submissions at the MyIdealCity site.


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