Category Archives: case studies

Are pop-ups powerful?


Inflato Dumpster, a popup to increase public space by the Department of Urban Betterment

In the last few months some interesting Pop-Up news has come across the desk. For example this proposal by Department of Urban Betterment to use inflatables on dumpsters to increase public space in NYC–the Inflato Dumpster. While this article on Treehugger wonders about the renaissance of dumpsters, here I want to wonder about the capacity of short term or mobile structures and facilities to be powerful in bringing about change.

In the book Architecture & Design versus Consumerism I look at how pop-ups can shift power by enabling people to make more decentralized, distributed decisions. Examples included a pop-up prayer space, park or library. But what is the endgame of pop-ups?

One key endpoint that I saw in my research is demonstrating alternatives (for example alternative land use or alternative infrastructure/structure) in a compelling way that allowed people to bargain for this type of change more broadly. That’s what happened when San Francisco-based Rebar created temporary parks in metered parking spaces. Based on this successful intervention that spread to other cities, local governments eventually changed their urban park policies to “take back” more street space for parks.


parasite book share–repurposing phone booths into urban libraries, also by John Locke and the Department of Urban Betterment

Another endpoint is to improve fairness or access, in the case of things like recreational facilities (barge-mounted swimming pool) or functional amenties like performance spaces and urban farms.

Here in England, London Pup-ups tracks pop-up activity across the city, and this points to a central challenge of the pop-up scene: knowing what is going on where. Many of the popups in London are, understandably, about increasing commerce rather than empowering neighborhoods, although even there, we could make arguments that popus provide an opportunity for creating more social fabric.

Where do you think the popup scene is leading us in terms of building power to make change?

If you find this post useful please pass it on. Also check out the current Thursday Inspiration post profiling two great research projects, on cycling in later life and on sustainable household consumption in Ireland.


Reflecting on Mandela through Design Activism

Although I’m not in a position to write an adequate tribute to South African leader Nelson Mandela, with his passing last week I want to recall some design activist projects from South Africa and invite readers to share their own. Here are a few of my favorites: The 10 x 10 Low Cost Housing ProjectContinue Reading

Design-for-3D Printing as community organizing

Weekend before last I went along to the London 3D print show to see the cutting edge of this emerging field. Very Interesting. There was a 3D printed car, along with other 3D printed items such as shoes, toys, medical models, equipment for international development, and even Thor’s hammer, as used in the feature film.Continue Reading

Philippines: disaster relief and more

In the wake of disaster in the Philippines, many designers are focused on core issues such as emergency shelter, provision of food and other necessities. And rightly so. Services to people in dire circumstances is a classic form of design activism. Countless designers have contributed to disaster relief, for example, through fast, inexpensive emergency shelter,Continue Reading

My colleague Jacquie Ottman, a veteran green marketer, has founded a group called “We Hate to Waste” that lives at The group offers a No-Waste Lifestyle™ (with 8 facets) but I have to admit, the “TM” is a bit of a stumbling block for me. The website says: To spread our No-Waste Lifestyle™ aroundContinue Reading

My recent open design experience

Recently I attended a workshop hosted by the London group “Technology will Save Us” (I’ll call them TWSU to save some words). I also saw the exhibit Adhocracy on view in London’s Lime Wharf, featuring a bunch of interesting ideas for open design, distributed manufacturing, and digital fabrication technologies. The range of ideas in theContinue Reading

Designers in a new “collaborative” brand called Common

When I first heard about the idea of a collaborative brand I was intrigued. The message came in a tweet from Project M’s John Bielenberg, “world’s first collaborative brand.” I promptly retweeted (follow me on twitter @atlasann), but also watched a video of their launch. The idea is that you can shift a brand’s valueContinue Reading

Design for social impact-is it activism?

Have you been reading some of the interesting stuff about design for social impact? For example, The School for Visual Arts has recently finished up its summer workshop, “!mpact: Design for Social Change” which introduces participants to “the growing field of design for social advocacy.” One of the particularly interesting projects there was an effortContinue Reading

motivations and strategy–cases from fashion and jewelrey design

What motivates design activists? In the past few weeks I’ve come across a few cases that have made me think about motivations. Are some motivations better, or more authentic than others? Does the level of authenticity, if it could be measured, influence the nature of the activism or what it can accomplish? To what degreeContinue Reading

notes from England (North of London)

I recently visited the University of Manchester’s Architecture Research Centre (MARC) for a workshop on the Politics of Design. There were people at the workshop from all over the world and the program was provocative. In keeping with my previous geographic post, here I report on a few English initiatives that I came across atContinue Reading