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Unsolicited Architecture for Celebration and Place Making

buckybar_04At the 2016 New Partners for Smart Growth conference, PlaceMatters set up an exhibit demonstrating ways to incorporate pop-up design into community planning and stakeholder engagement. At the front end of the exhibit was a pocket park featuring a geodesic dome made out of umbrellas. I got the idea from photos I had seen of a pop-up event in Rotterdam where students from Dutch Architecture Studios created a dome made of umbrellas and re-assembled it in a few hours on the streets of Rotterdam catalyzing an impromptu party underneath. They called the structure a Bucky Bar, in honor of Buckminster Fuller and his multiple designs of geodesic domes. In one of the write-ups on this event, they gave the structure and associated event the label of unsolicited architecture  I like this term as another classification of what we often refer to as  tactical urbanism or pop-up up design, referring to the deployment of easy to assemble structures that draw attention and encourage spontaneity, socializing, and conversations about placemaking.

Live•Ride•Share - Pop-up Demostration - May 2016Since the New Partners conference, PlaceMatters did a pop-up demonstration of a protected bike lane and place making activities, May 17th as part of the Live•Ride•Share conference. A self imposed goal of this pop-up demonstration was to be able to set up and take down the demonstration in under 30 minutes, utilizing materials that had been used in prior demonstrations and/or would be reusable in the future with minimal waste and clean-up. The demonstration included contributions from the Ladies Fancywork Society that is famous in the Denver Region for their crochet bombing techniques, adding art and beauty to objects in the area. My favorite crochet bomb they made for us was the flower petals/leaf added to the “B” sign of the nearby B-cycle bikeshare rack. They also decorated the bike racks, trees, and one of the bikes next to the pop-up demonstration.


The Making of the Umbrella Tent

Luckily, I was able to find a Sketchup Design done by Taff Goch that I imported into my own SketchUp model of our exhibit area. Below are some screenshots of the exhibit and the dome design.

Sketchup rendering of NPSG 2016 parkletGeodesic umbrella dome - NPSG 2016

As you can see from the photos and the SketchUp model, this partial dome is made out of a combination of octagons, squares, and 7 prong stars, which I confess caused hours of head scratching on how these shapes could come together to form a dome. It helps to realize the pattern cannot be repeated to create a fully enclosed polyhedron. If I did it again, I would probably make a dome out of 5-ribbed and 6-ribbed umbrellas, mimicking the soccer ball design of a truncated icosahedron but with extra hexagons.

DIY 7 rib umbrella for geodesic umbrella dome - NPSG 2016One of the challenges I ran into was finding similar umbrellas to what creators at the Dutch Architecture Studios used. It’s not hard to find octagon umbrellas but finding heptagon or 14-rib umbrellas that are the right size is another matter. The umbrellas I ended up finding and ordering were shipped from China. And because I ordered them 2 weeks before the event, I realized they would not arrive until after the conference. To be able to build the dome without the 7 or 14 rib umbrellas, I ended up making a 7 prong hub in Sketchup and printing the hub with a 3D printer. I used ¼ oak dowels for the spokes. We then put a white photography umbrella in the hole of the center of the hub. Special thanks to Drew Hastings and Holst Architecture, in Portland, for offering to print the hubs on their new 3D printer. 

Here is a panoramic picture of the entire exhibit area.

Panoramic view of NPSG 2016 PlaceMatters Parklet

For a blog entry on all the parklets featured at the conference refer to the following overview put together by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). In addition to the indoor parklet, PlaceMatters partnered with ALTA Planning in Portland to do a pop-up demonstration of a protected bike lane on Broadway Street, just outside of the Hyatt Hotel where the conference was. Here is a nice blog posted on Bike Portland’s website about the demonstration and some of the challenges of doing a demonstration under wet conditions.

Additional notes on building your own umbrella dome

Not sure how long these links will remain valid, but here are links to the materials I found.

  • Octagon Umbrellas: Rainstoppers 34-Inch Children’s Umbrella – great price and the plastic knobs on the ends are perfect for tying the umbrellas together with pipe cleaner wire.
  • 14-rib Umbrellas: ColorDrip Business Style Windproof Automatic Travel Sun-Rain Umbrella – it took a long time to find these since 14 rib umbrellas are rare, and finding the right size is even more rare. Because these ship from China they took more than a month to arrive.
  • Top of geodesic umbrella domeFor the center support pole, I used a 10 foot black pipe from Home Depot with two floor flanges for each end. On the bottom, I screwed the flange into a 12X12X1” piece of oak. On the top, I used bailing wire to attach the flange to the four umbrellas at the top.

Feel free to contact me if you have questions or need further details on materials and construction of the dome.