The pop-up shops that welcomed visitors to Wilkes-Barre’s Public Square this holiday season provided local retailers and craftspeople with a way to safely connect with customers. The rhythm of distinctive, sawtooth-shaped shops brought a festive, open-air market experience to downtown, a warm glow in the winter twilight.
Through its pop-up shop program in recent years, the Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce has offered vacant storefronts downtown at a discount to small retailers and craftspeople without a brick-and-mortar presence. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside a desire from the Chamber to bring added life to the square, refocused the initiative to create outdoor ‘huts’ that would help those impacted continue to have a presence in a safer environment.
During a time of remote work and virtual collaboration, we responded to this idea with a process that brought together our six studios at the outset to exchange ideas, holding a firmwide design charrette in June to identify important themes and topics. Following the charrette, a team in our Wilkes-Barre studio synthesized ideas and began to advance potential schemes, meeting frequently and inviting guests from across the practice to (virtually) review, critique and contribute to the dialogue.
From the charrette and conversations with the client, it was important for the design to act as a lantern, or beacon; be affordable to build; and consider all-seasons use. Three schemes evolved from this process:
Simple forms with repetitive structural elements
A repeated sculptural lantern
A compact form that expands and functions as an art installation when closed
Flexible Future Use
While the Apiary was ultimately developed, each scheme is responsive to its context and addresses flexibility of use in different ways. Made with 2x4s and polycarbonate cladding — commonly used in greenhouses — the Apiary structures offer natural warming during the day and achieve the desired “lantern” glow at night, serving as beacons on the square.
Seen above, an alternate version of the Apiary scheme allowed for multiple configurations, interior shelving and windows. The design team also looked at adding solar power in future iterations, as well as honing the assembly to a flat-packed, prefabricated product that could be used for shelter as well as community gathering. The integration of public art also emerged as an interesting avenue during this process, particularly with Scheme Delta, which envisions a vibrant village atmosphere both during open hours and after the structures close down each day.
While the initial goal was to deliver a more welcoming — and safer — shopping experience for the 2020 holiday season, the design process illuminated future uses extending beyond downtown Wilkes-Barre, addressing material use and assembly, portability, and ease of modification. If you would like to explore this flexible approach in your community, please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.