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They had no money, no venue and no time, yet the team behind Sydney Design Festival’s rooftop exhibition, The Peripheral City, had the perfect ingredients for a successful pop-up.

In under two weeks, five designers, their curator Shuang West, and host Gavin Heaton, came together to transform an unused rooftop into an immersive experience that combined elements of design, architecture and art to challenge conventional ideas about cities.

Now, they share their insights and advice on how you can create a pop-up to showcase your ideas.

Step 1 – Find a space

Currently in her final year of a Masters in Architecture at UTS, Shuang West was the curator behind The Peripheral City and she shared her key steps toward creating a successful pop-up.

The space is often the most important and most expensive aspect of creating a successful pop-up, but Shuang was able to find the perfect space whilst sticking to a tight budget.

Her secret? Mutual benefit.

When asked how she rented the space, Shuang replied, “I didn’t rent it out I just negotiated”.

Shuang had been designing an office space for a client when she discovered the rooftop.

“Instead of just finishing the job and moving on, I could see more potential within that space,” she said.

Shuang says ensuring the pop-up creates mutual opportunity for both the artist and the host is the key to negotiating an ideal space on a low budget.

“When we were looking at what we could do with the rooftop it was also very much about how we could benefit the Disruptors Handbook because it was a good exposure and an opportunity for them to tap into creative industries so it became about that partnership,” said Shuang.

Step 2 – Find your tribe

“The reason this project was so successful is that the team understood each other,” said Shuang.

Creating a pop-up involves collaboration at every stage of the process so Shuang says find a community that will be receptive to your ideas.

“If you’re solo, find a niche meet-up or event and chances are you’ll be able to connect with people who share your interests,” she said.

Step 3 – Be resourceful

Ruby PH, designer & online creator, Georgia Jamieson, a recent architecture graduate from UTS and Rachel Vosila, an object designer and sessional academic, were among the artists of The Peripheral City pop-up. With a low budget, each of the artists found resourcefulness to be key.

The artworks featured in the exhibition were crafted primarily from recycled scrap materials.

“A lot of the initial effort involved trying to source free or very cheap materials, most of that ended up coming from Marrickville maker space, So-Watt, who had some spare timber lying around,” said Georgia.

“Reverse-garbage and Bunnings were where we got all our paid materials,” she said.

Step 4 – Quick and dirty

“It is constraints that challenge us to produce our best works. And pop-ups are a melting pot of constraints.”
– Gavin Heaton (The Disruptor’s Handbook)

Due to a tight budget and even tighter schedule, experimentation and a fast-paced workflow was a common takeaway for all of the designers involved.

“The pop up offers a great medium to test ideas with an audience really quickly without the weight of needing to have everything refined and perfect the first time around,” said Rachel.

“It was a super quick process, no messing around or overthinking concepts,” agreed Ruby.

“This project was about bringing to light work & concepts that already existed in a way that made it new again for our group and audience,” she said.

Step 5 – Create an event and facilitate an experience

Pop-ups are designed to excite and engage audiences quickly and that’s where the host Gavin Heaton, owner of the rooftop and author at the Disruptor’s Handbook, comes in.

The Peripheral City placed significant emphasis on facilitating a meaningful and immersive experience.

“When you’re running a pop-up there’s so much more required to make it work for an audience. You’ve got to master not only materials but experiences,” said Gavin Heaton.

The event featured interactive instillations and artworks as well as a sun-rise discussion panel over breakfast that was inclusive of both the artists and the audience.

Gavin Heaton says the context in which audiences experience the pop-up is key in providing opportunities for artists and audiences to engage with each other and with the work in a meaningful capacity.

“It’s not just about designing an experience, it’s about hosting and guiding it as a live event – teasing out the stories behind the work and creating contexts in which the audience could co-create meaning.”

“Pop-ups aren’t exclusive to art. You can take the model of a pop-up and apply it to any project.”
– Shuang West (Curator of The Peripheral City)

At the end of the interview, Shuang makes an interesting observation:

“None of us are actually artists,” she said.

“We’re creative professionals but we all came together to produce something that would showcase our skills in an innovative way so that people could engage with our work.”

The Peripheral City is a testament to the fact that with the right ingredients, pop-ups are a fast, engaging and innovative way of showcasing ideas.

Author: Olivana Smith-Lathouris

Photo: Guy Degen

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