CultureHouse Central Square Pop-up

On Sunday, December 18th, 2017, CultureHouse set up an outdoor living room in Central Square in Cambridge, MA. In the 28˚F weather, we brought out a couch, a rug, a table, some chairs, blankets, a tropical beach-themed photo booth, and a large prompt board. We placed the items next to a large tree in Jill Brown Rhone Park and then observed how it changed the way people interacted with the space.

The Making of the Pop-up

We decided to create a small pop-up version of CultureHouse to test our assumptions and get feedback on what kinds of spaces are needed to bring the community together. By looking at previous successful pop-ups, we put together a kit of parts that we could pack into a minivan and set up and take down in 15 minutes. We came up with three main elements. The first is a living room set with blankets and a guest book. We chose this because we wanted to give the feeling that the pop-up was something people should feel comfortable entering and spending time in. For our second and third elements, we created an assemble-able board with a prompt on one side and a photo booth on the other. The board was made from cardboard and is easily adaptable and reusable. For our next pop-up, we can simply change out the paper.

Once we had all the materials collected and created, we loaded everything into the van and drove to Central Square.

The Space

“Placemaking is also an integral part of revitalizing Central Square, which is designated as the cultural district in our City.”

– Alanna Mallon, Cambridge City Council Member

In order to gather community feedback about CultureHouse, we set up a board with the prompt “I wish I had a space to…” and let passers-by write their answers. We found that most people stopped to read what was written, and many added their own ideas. We were able to see the wide range of ideas, and the common thread was that they wanted a space where they could interact with others in a public setting. One community member wanted a space to cook so that she could host large dinners for everyone in the community. Others wanted a space to be with their friends, listen to music, play, study, and relax.

“I wish I had a space to hang out, watch people, hear music, not necessarily buy something.”

— Bill, Central Square Resident

On the other side of the board, we set up a photo booth with a beach backdrop and associated props. Before we had even finished setting up, there were people asking if we could take a photo of them in the scene. Even with winter coats on, people were still able to enjoy an unexpected day at the beach. As people walked by, even if they did not stop for a photo, it brought a smile upon their faces to see something so funny and different in a space that normally had nothing.

Many passers-by stopped to spend time in the space and ask us about the project. When we left the space to observe from afar, we noticed that people tended to read the sign we had placed there explaining the project and many people took photos.

The Results

We got 28 individual responses on the prompt board, and many more through in-person conversations. This data confirmed our initial assumptions about the kind of space that people are looking for. In addition, we learned from the residents’ feedback about other desired spaces and will incorporate these into our next pop-up. We also noticed that people tended not to spend as much time sitting down in the living room set. Part of this was certainly due to the temperature, but it was also because there was no programming there. At out next pop-up, we will include more activities such as board games, reading material, etc.

For four hours, the park was transformed from a pathway people walked through, to a space that people stuck to and spent time in. At 2PM, we packed everything up in to a car, and left the square just as we had found it.

Whats Next

CultureHouse improves livability in local communities by transforming unused spaces into vibrant social infrastructure.

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