Between the extremes of permanent and temporary, the realm of the meanwhile gets short shrift. It is a missing timeframe, or bandwidth, to which it can reward us to pay more attention.
Given the multiplicity of city-making projects going on, it is remarkable that so little research is undertaken into what actually works on the ground. A steady stream of ‘permanent’ structures are being erected that often prove to have short life spans, due to changes of planned use or commercial failure. Simultaneously, cities host ‘temporary’ street markets or lavish festivals that transform parts of the city for a single day.
Yet between theses two extremes of permanent and temporary, the realm of the meanwhile gets short shrift. The interim usage is a missing timeframe, or bandwidth, to which too little attention has been paid. Meanwhile spaces should not be conflated with pop-up places, which are a quick fix, intended to titillate the weary consumer - although meanwhile uses may incorporate elements of the pop-up.
The value of meanwhile spaces lies in their refusal to waste time or let sites lie fallow. They represent a broader strategy for change that is by nature experimental, giving the freedom to try out, at scale, new and unfamiliar ideas about the more permanent city and negotiate more informal practices of governance. Because freedom is infectious, the discoveries made in these laboratories for future change disseminate fast, with experiments tried out in one place swiftly inspiring others, on very different kinds of sites.
Such projects are diverse but have a family resemblance. They tend towards the capture and re-use of waste materials, often acting as social projects by capturing many kinds of human energy which happen to be unconnected, undervalued or just undiscovered. London examples that we know of include Shuffle film festival, Grow Elephant, the Skip Garden, the Western Curve Garden, the temporary Almeida theatres and Ash Sakula’s own Caravanserai.
Ash Sakula often advises clients and collaborators to investigate temporary urbanism as a tool for exploring the corners of larger sites; as a way to start building months or years before a main development can start; or as a strategy for building the identity of a place and drawing out talented local collaborators. A proliferation of supported experiments in the city enriches its culture, making it more inclusive and creating a series of interconnected memories that feed communities and keep places alive.
Putting under-utilised land and buildings to better use - sustainably and profitably.
Constructing a self-built arts village on derelict land in east London.
Smart creative co-working regenerates the ex-industrial wastelands of Cardiff Bay.