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Temporary Architecture Projects Inspiring Our Work at Better Block

The world of temporary architecture has grown at a fast pace globally with the introduction of maker communities, fab labs, digital fabrication tools, and an open-sourced framework that puts more keys into the hands of community members and residents to shape their built environment. Over the last decade, the work at Better Block has been inspired by many artists, students, architects, and DIY’ers who have disrupted the status quo and introduced ideas that have challenged traditional ways of getting things done. With that in mind, here are 13 projects that have inspired us over the last decade or so.

Art and architecture firm, Raumlabor Berlin, took on the challenge of what to do with reclaimed city space after the fall of the Berlin wall, and looked at ways to rapidly challenge how people came together using unorthodox approaches to space. One of their most notable projects involved taking a delivery truck and packing it with a large inflatable bubble that projects out of the back of the vehicle. The re-claimed space inside of the bubble can be used for a host of activities: food gatherings, live performances, a community living room.

Theaster Gates’ work has been transforming underutilized buildings in South Chicago for some time. In correlation with that work, his art projects have continued to inspire and challenge. His 2015 work in Bristol UK, Sanctum, turned the interior of a bombed-out 14th century church into a new cathedral space. Using reclaimed materials from buildings around the city, the space opened to a series of regular performances and community events.

Jason Roberts led a conversation on programming with Reimagining the Civic Commons in the archive room of Theaster Gates’ Stony Island Arts Bank.

In 2008, Larry Sass, an architecture professor at MIT, was inspired by CNC fabrication and set to work to reverse engineer a classic New Orleans shotgun house, and show how the structure could be designed and printed via digital fabrication. The work would lead to other inspiring projects like London’s open-sourced Wikihouse and our own Wikiblock line of public furniture.

Our Wikiblock concept was inspired by Larry Sass’ work.

This project came across our radar when putting together the FD17 Design Build competition in Dallas this year. The idea, to bring together teams to rapidly construct pavilions using CNC methods sent us down a rabbit trail of architectural blog entries and Pinterest boards, culminating in the discovery of this epic festival in Shanghai. The image above was from the 2014 competition, which has grown to take on new mediums and international teams.

The winning design of FD17, our design competition.

Assemble UK began as a collective between post architectural students who were interested in taking on problems in their own neighborhoods. In 2015, the group won the Turner Prize and is continuing to inspire with community-based projects. The Cineroleum was our introduction to their work. The team took a dilapidated gas station and converted it into a movie house, complete with stadium seating, professional lighting, and an aluminum Tyvek curtain that could be raised and lowered to reveal the street after a viewing.

ETH students in Zurich, Switzerland opened an entirely new field of digital fabrication with the construction of a rope bridge using small drones. The project was an interdisciplinary collaboration between multiple departments at the school to test the concept of aerial construction. Though the work is still in its infancy, the possibilities introduced by this effort have opened up a flood gate of ideas for its potential use.

Architect Alejandro Araveno developed an innovative solution to the development of low-income housing by creating the incremental building. In Chile, low-income families have a hard time affording a “good” large house. Alejandro took on the problem by creating a large framework, but building half a house that would be affordable, and allow the family to build out the other half with time on their own. His work has led to a series of incremental building projects that are opening the possibilities for reshaping the built environment.

The use of color to dramatically change a space has become more prevalent in the work we’ve been developing recently. One of the most notable examples we drew inspiration from was a project in Paris that fashion brand Pigalle spearheaded with design firm Ill Studios. The space, wedged between two apartment buildings, is a standout among the area’s mostly gray and beige neighbors.

We’ve started incorporating painted graphics in our interventions. It’s a fun way to involve the community in the designs and implementation.

9. Mierigi! from Fine Young Urbanists, Riga, Latvia

Architects in Riga, Latvia, recognized the lack of quality bicycle infrastructure in their city, and took to redesigning two sides of an existing street in plywood to demonstrate an improved environment. The bold blue used throughout the projectninspired our work on incorporating color into Better Block projects. Also, the uniformity of a single medium, plywood, would later influence our work with the development of the Wikiblock library.

Designer Morag Myerscough is known for her work in “playful placemaking.” With the MVMNT cafe project, she incorporated shipping containers, scaffolding, and boldly painted plywood to create an inviting and colorful landscape that immediately brings the space to life.

Budapest has become famous for its “ruin bars,” which take abandoned or dilapidated buildings, lots, and stores, and convert them into colorful and jumbled pubs. The grandaddy of them all is Szimpla Kert, which at times looks like a flea market exploded onto the walls, but has a charm to it that works because it’s making due with anything and everything around it to bring it to life. It’s become a cultural epicenter for Budapest, with many copies dotting the landscape. The idea of making due with what exists has been a big inspiration when working on project sites. Playing off the natural beauty and using inexpensive found materials shows a path for others to playfully bring places back to life.

12. Uchronia Installation, Burning Man

Belgian artist, Arne Quinze, has been developing fascinating public installations for nearly two decades. One of his most notable projects was a massive pavilion composed of 2×4 lumber that was installed in the Nevada desert during Burning Man 2006. That work would lead to similar pavilions installed around the world that had a similar aesthetic.

13. Park(ing) Day by Rebar

When the team at Rebar rolled out the idea of Park(ing) Day, it was a simple but highly impactful intervention that upended the way people thought of something as ubiquitous and unquestionable as a street level parking space. Yes, we put money into a meter and park our cars, but what if the transaction itself led to a temporary re-capturing of the street real estate for greenspace that allowed people to linger, relax, and contemplate nature in an urban environment? The project has grown to an international movement that takes place each year, with hundreds of installations. Our earliest Better Block projects looked at this model and realized it could be extrapolated to a block level and include the private realm along with the public, but Park(ing) Day definitely planted the seed.

For our Park(ing) Day installation, we reverse engineered the trampoline sidewalks from Copenhagen.


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