Shape shift


Whether they come under the banner of ‘guerrilla’, ‘pop-up’, ‘touring’, or all three, temporary commercial spaces are playing a key role in brand strategy. Chasing the fickle attentions of today’s consumers in an advanced social culture where the traditions of retail and hospitality continue to merge, businesses are under pressure to create worthwhile experiences in all categories and ever greater value is placed on ‘time well spent’ over wealth of possessions. Combine that with the fast pace of consumer demand, short attention spans for commercial messages, and the result is a new commercial landscape where changeability and disruption of expectations are the main influencing factors.

In this ‘experience economy’, the role of design is critical – but the three-dimensional manifestations of a brand’s mindset, shared values and positioning as both a commercial and cultural proposition are more short-lived than ever. What’s more, although they have indisputable commercial value the majority of temporary spaces are still allocated relatively small budgets. So what does it take to create a stand-out temporary interior? Smart design, curation of local talents and resources, and a strong, simple idea.

A number of innovations have recently taken the genre to new heights. Beyond ensuring that the brand transcends traditional expectations, differentiates itself from the competition and forges connections with its audience in crowded markets, these temporary commercial spaces have important roles in educating, entertaining and building enhanced relationships with their audiences. They also allow for experimentation, interaction, greater freedom of expression and the opportunity to talk to new markets.

The Campana Brothers’ Camper boutique in Berlin is an excellent execution of the concept of a temporary interior design in its simplest form. It is also an example of ‘freedom of expression’ being offered from a brand – allowing consumers to make their mark within the space. Part of the ongoing Camper Together campaign of iconic creative collaborations, the concept is called Torn Leftovers. It consists of piles of discarded test print advertising hoardings that have been turned into a huge wall collage of multiple layers. Customers are encouraged to interact, tearing off random sections to reveal the underlying patterns and thus constantly changing the appearance of the space. The store furniture has also been produced from recycled materials: the tables are constructed from wood layered with old Camper publicity material, and the window display units are formed from blocks of recycled, shredded paper. The installation is due to be in situ for a year before the space is redesigned.

Reclaimed fixtures and fittings are a popular and economical design solution that can be exploited in the design of guerrilla temporary spaces. When the Phone House, a German telecoms retailer, launched a temporary retail space in Cologne, designed by Coordination and Berlinomat, the aim was to raise awareness and promote the brand’s products in preparation for the opening of a new flagship store, and to generate interest from a younger, edgier consumer than its stores usually attracted. The pop-up store offered a showcase area for trialling the products, a lounge space and a quieter consultation space where customers could sign up for new contracts – most of the furniture was constructed by innovatively rethinking the existing industrial fixtures, combined with wooden crates and complemented by in-situ graphic work. Due to its popularity and commercial success, the venture continued to trade for four months longer than originally scheduled, overlapping with the launch of the flagship store.

Taking the strategy of pop-up retail and moving it a stage further, Sidecar Eventi illustrates the transition from temporary retail as a promotional activity to an ongoing commercial proposition and consumer destination. With a decrease in the number of permanent stores being opened (down 35 per cent in Italy in the past five years), Sidecar Eventi – a spin-off of Sidecar Diffusion, an Italian fashion brand distributor – saw a business opportunity for a well-located venue offering temporary retail space for one or more brands at a time. Situated in Milan, and designed by Perengo & Perbellini & Radaelli, this ‘shop sharing’ concept has attracted high-profile international brands, which rent all or part of the space for a period of two to four weeks. An in-house visual merchandising team creates bespoke fixtures for each installation and typical build time is just one or two days.

It’s not always about rough and ready, however. In some cases, a relatively high budget (and flair for spending it) can lead to impressive results. As part of a strategy to better promote the quality of Sony Bravia products through physical media, Sony launched a three-dimensional experience to bring the essence of the products to life. Designed by Odd and Naked Communications, two temporary event spaces – The Colour Rooms – were launched simultaneously, one in a former electric plant in Berlin, the other in a converted railway arch in East London. The unexpected, multifunctional venues boasted intimate lounge areas, a large event space, galleries and screening rooms, a stage and a bar/bistro and integrated Bravia screen technology throughout. The venues were available for hire for events such as private screenings, parties, presentations and photo-shoots, while a contained gallery space housed exhibitions from local artists, designers and craftsmen. This proved a good example of temporary branded space creating an added value.

Staying with the theme of hospitality as a tool to connect with audiences, the Bon Appétit Supper Club in New York demonstrates the growing trend for ‘media embodiment’ where two-dimensional media entities are creating three-dimensional, experiential activities. In this case, the food magazine Bon Appétit hosted a pop-up supper club offering two contrasting dining experiences for daytime and evening guests. Each day, a different high-profile chef was invited to take over the kitchen and customise the menu, providing a physical, sensory manifestation of the content of the publication – ‘living media’ at its best. Designed by the Rockwell Group, a daytime café space open to the public hosted events such as book signings, chef appearances and food exhibits, while in the evenings, the main dining area was converted into an invitation-only venue, hosting parties, premieres and fundraisers. The café itself was given a bright, fresh appearance with bold graphics, and the evening club – including a dining room, lounge and bar – was designed as a dramatic, theatrical space and created a visual representation of the city at night.

One of the most effective examples in recent times of a brand using temporary commercial space for experimentation and expansion into other media is the Starbucks Salon in New York, which positioned the brand as a cultural patron. Combining a coffeehouse, gallery and performance space, this temporary, nomadic venue provided days of free music, book and poetry readings, art exhibitions and fashion events. Created and curated by Formavision with Wieden & Kennedy, the concept aimed to showcase Starbucks as a locally relevant brand, providing a cultural focus that supported and featured work from local creative individuals, both established and up-and-coming artists, authors, performers and DJs. The venue was open for ten days only, from 10am to 10pm, with plans to tour the concept globally. The design of the space drew on the talents of local graffiti artists.

Starbucks Salon’s full-roasted nemesis, of course, is the Illycaffè. For the fourth year in a row, coffee brand Illy has partnered with the Venice Biennale to provide visitors with a version of the its ‘Illymind’ concept – a place to pause for rest, reflection and refreshment within the exhibition. The chosen method for the last event was an installation that aimed to further link Illy with the creative arts industry and strengthen its visible patronage. The feature – Push Button House – was originally a work by artist-architect Adam Kalkin, and provided visitors with coffee and a place to relax within the ‘world of art’. At the touch of a button, and in just 90 seconds, the unit unfolds from a compact shipping container into a fully furnished living space.

Perhaps the most spectacular example of this genre of late, however, is the Chanel Mobile Art Pavilion, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects. A travelling art space that hosts an exhibition of artworks inspired by Chanel bags, even the building itself was inspired by the brand’s signature quilted handbag. The architects developed a hi-tech facade from fibre-reinforced plastic to keep the weight down to make shipping easy. Designing the gallery, which is intended to have a lifetime of three years (rather than 30) as it tours, was, according to project architect Thomas Vietzke, ‘More like designing a product than a building – it’s not so rooted in its context so the parameters were very different. Assembly and disassembly were obviously crucial.’

The concept of temporary brand spaces is one that has attracted a lot of activity, but there is still huge potential for future development. In an advanced consumer market where traditional brand-messaging and communications so often falls on deaf ears, three-dimensional brand experiences that provide unexpected scenarios are a powerful tool.

Reflecting the increasingly transient nature of lifestyles, spatial design concepts that allow for a regularly changing proposition attuned to psychographics rather than demographics – becoming active social commentators – will find that they enable brands to build a much longer-lived and positive rapport with consumers.

Lucy Johnston is executive editor of the Global Innovation Report, published by GDR

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