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Here Today, Gone Tomorrow

Short-term pop-up shops can leave long-term impressions with patrons. Here’s a look at some notable installations, and tips for your next pop-up project.


Short-term pop-up shops can leave long-term impressions with patrons. Here’s a look at some notable installations, and tips for your next pop-up project.

Here today, gone tomorrow (or next week, or next month)—this is a defining characteristic of the unique creature known as the pop-up shop. And yet, despite their ephemeral nature, these shops offer an amazing marketing and design opportunity, precisely because they last for a short window of time.

“I think pop-up shops are popular for us as designers because you can think outside the box—you can do something powerful and creative that’s not held down by it having to last for 15 years,” says Lori Mukoyama, a principle in RTKL’s Chicago office. “I feel as a designer that they’re great because you can do something that’s a big deal for a quick amount of time.”

less can be more
Sometimes the space itself says it all, requiring minimal resources to make a statement.

“If there’s an empty storefront in SoHo, for example, a lot of those buildings have a lot of great context, texture and existing conditions that are pretty unique in and of themselves, so there’s a lot of things that you don’t have to do,” says Colin Brice, principal with Mapos LLC. “Make some cool display tables and a cash register and you might be able to call it a day, depending on the space. Everything is kind of relative, depending on where it’s going.”

Herman Miller used the less-is-more strategy in its New York City SoHo pop-up shop this summer. The company wanted to formally launch its new Herman Miller Collection, as well as demonstrate its ability to furnish all of the environments that make up our modern lives, from the backyard to the boardroom.

“We wanted to show as wide a range of products and applications as possible,” says Mark Schurman, director of corporate communications for Herman Miller. “We wanted to present it in way that speaks to the performance and the quality, as well as the beauty, of the designs. The interior architecture was really the responsibility of the owner—the owner was in the midst of doing a tear-down to the walls. It was ideal timing for us. It’s beautifully finished but literally a blank canvas, which is what we wanted.”

sustainable solutions
The inherent nature of pop-ups also means they can be prone to sustainability issues; using materials for only a matter of days, weeks or months before tear-down doesn’t exactly scream “green.”

To get around some of these potential issues, you’ll need to be creative. Recycled and recyclable products and materials are a proven way to reduce your environmental impact, but they may also be too “safe” for spaces designed to capture people’s attention. To make a bigger impact, think outside of the normal product box.

“We just created pop-up shops in Hong Kong and Beijing for Nicola Formichetti, and we designed them so that all of the walls were made with these chrome and plastic vacuum-formed panda panels,” explains Mark Foster Gage, principal for Gage / Clemenceau Architects. “We made the actual panels that comprised the store for sale, so over the course of the month-long period that the shops are up, people are buying the panels. Then at the end, people come pick them up and take them home. There isn’t very much wasted because the actual store was made of product, in a sense.”

An even greener option is to avoid purchasing building materials in the first place. Mapos LLC pursued this route when designing a pop-up shop for Green Depot, a construction supply company, within New York City’s Grand Central Terminal. Due to the historic location, the firm needed to be flexible in its approach.

“It became a design challenge,” says Brice. “We rented a bunch of scaffolding, which was kind of a cool, industrial framework that we could build on top of. The use of scaffolding was a very innovative approach because it was so simple, cost-effective, and sustainable, but it really made a big impact. A lot of other pop-ups in the environment were doing more of a tradeshow booth thing, which is horrible and boring. But if you put in a couple of these very tall scaffolding towers, 15-20 feet tall, wrap them in beautiful scrims and project on them, it’s a very simple thing that creates a big wow-effect.”

Scaffolding may not work for your clients, but Brice recommends tapping other specialized rental options to help create the perfect atmosphere.

“Look at the set design market, the Hollywood market,” he says. “There are a lot of warehouses here in New York City that actually cater to the film industry, and there’s a lot of cool rental stuff out there.”

be bold with the brand
Part of the beauty of a pop-up is that because it’s short-lived, it’s all about a burst of excitement and energy. You get to take the best of the brand and make it pop.

“You’re able to be a lot more creative and intuitive with your design because you can throw something out there that might not be the more traditional marketing way to go,” Mukoyama explains. “Keep it different and fresh and get people’s eyes, because it’s going to be there for such a short amount of time. Don’t think so much about the permanency of it, the massiveness or the heaviness of it, but just getting people interested in it.”

However, don’t stray so far into eye-catching and different that you neglect the brand altogether. You may have more creative freedom with a pop-up shop than with a brick-and-mortar retail establishment, but you have to make sure that the design meshes with the rest of the client’s messaging.

“Remember that you’re creating a brand experience that needs to be relevant to their customer, so don’t go in thinking ‘I have to be inexpensive or cheap or temporary,’” says Brice. “Think brand experience first and then work back from there and say, ‘what can work with that brand but be less expensive, temporary or sustainable?’ If you start a pop-up thinking that it has to be temporary and it has to be inexpensive, you shoot yourself in the foot for a starting point. It has to be all of those things, but it has to be brand-relevant first or it’s never going to fly.”


Kylie Wroblaski is a former editor for BUILDINGS magazine, and has written previously about architecture and facilities management.