Interiors

Lulamae Pop-Up Shop

June 10, 2010

In Lulamae, one of the recent pop-up additions to Melbourne’s shopping scene, Alexa Kempton discovers a world made of cardboard where design is paramount and sustainability rules.

The pop-up shop, that small-scale retail space with its focus on consumerism and the temporary, has in recent years become popular with shrewd retailers and their captive audience. The set up can be described as gimmicky, fun and vibrant; less likely, however, are its associations with sustainable architecture and responsible design. One recent project, the Lulamae Pop-Up that appeared in Melbourne in late 2009, manages to encapsulate both sides of the coin.

Designed by Breathe Architecture for a small boutique brand, this whimsical space gives sustainable architecture a playful edge. Made entirely of cardboard, the Lulamae Pop-Up features an exterior of pre-fabricated panels, decorated with hand-drawn Victorian terrace facades, cut-out windows that offer glimpses into the interior and cardboard tubes functioning as columns supporting the structure. The project, Breathe’s first foray into temporary retail design, appeared on the lower level of Melbourne Central – a complex in the city’s CBD, redesigned by Ashton Raggatt McDougall in 2005, that recalls the bustling urban laneways that characterise Melbourne, redefining the shopping centre as an urban hub.

The collaboration between the clothing brand Lulamae and Breathe is part of a long-time partnership on a professional and personal level. Tamara Veltre, director of Lulamae, is also the partner of Breathe Architecture’s Jeremy McLeod. The practice designed the first Lulamae boutique, which opened in 2004 on Brunswick’s Sydney Road, and has since designed the brand’s sister shop, Ruby Patootie, another Sydney Road haunt that opened in 2006. A second Lulamae boutique opened in South Melbourne in 2007.

The opportunity for the pop-up came after Melbourne Central approached Veltre, offering her a prominent space on the lower level of the shopping centre for an eight-week period. Having accepted the brief, the architects had to resolve a conflict of interests: creating an impermanent design that would be removed after such a brief period contradicted the practice’s focus on sustainability.

McLeod explains that the solution was in the materials: temporary, in this case, does not equate to disposable. The flat-packed panels, made from 100 per cent post-consumer waste recycled cardboard – sourced locally – can be dismantled and stored, ready for future use. Central to the design was the idea that the pop-up typology could be interpreted like a pop-up storybook: a folded down structure that could be easily assembled, and then neatly packed away again.

This literal idea of the pop-up lends the design the air of the carnival. Like the circus coming to town, the idea was to create an unusual, eye-catching structure that celebrates the fun and frivolity of the carnival – luring passers-by into the busy, vibrant interior.

The terraced buildings depicted on the facade bring the busy streetscape of Brunswick to the city shopping centre and contrasts the glossy sheen of the glass-fronted shops of the pop-up’s permanent neighbours. The reference to Sydney Road serves as a reminder of the humble beginnings of the brand, while the scale of the buildings transforms the viewer into Alice, peering through the windows of the doll’s house.

There is an honesty of materials in the project, in part a result of a small budget and time restrictions. No attempt is made to disguise the ordinariness of the cardboard, with the designers instead exploring the decorative possibilities of the commonplace. Decorative flourishes are carved into the furniture pieces, revealing the corrugated inner layers of the board – an echo of March Studio’s 2007 design for the Aesop store on Flinders Lane that features cardboard boxes stacked like bricks and a tactile side wall with the serrated edges of the cardboard exposed.

Breathe has created a visually exciting retail experience in Lulamae, but the most heartening aspect of the project is the consideration it has shown for sustainable design and the wholly appropriate use of materials – a trend that, hopefully, is here to stay.

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