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The changing nature of placemaking

Kit & Caboodle's creative concept brought a feel-good summer vibe to the iconic Granary Square steps, enhancing "The Great Outdoors" campaign at Kings Cross Estates.
Kit & Caboodle's creative concept brought a feel-good summer vibe to the iconic Granary Square steps, enhancing "The Great Outdoors" campaign at Kings Cross Estates.

Over the past ten years or so, placemaking has grown in importance and stature for property owners, developers and BIDs and in doing so has evolved.  Back in the day, placemaking used to be primarily event-focused activations but has evolved into a more all-encompassing art.  And is all the richer for it.

 

At one time placemaking was largely focused on increasing footfall and lengthening dwell time and was epitomised by the short-lived, exciting one-off pinnacle events, especially beloved of developers and landowners with large estates and retail and F&B tenants to keep happy. 


This type of activation might include a fashion show in a shopping mall, creating a one-off experience for children and families, doing something with an empty unit, a celebration of the time of year, such as Easter or Halloween.  Clearly, they were successful, especially after the pandemic was over and retailers were desperate to get people in their stores, bars and restaurants.  While the ‘event’ will always have its place, after all Christmas demands a magical experience and our summer needs celebrating, the range of placemaking activities has grown hugely.  And as the traditional (placemaking) calendar has lengthened the types of activation we now see in areas, retail developments, malls and retail parks up and down the country has exploded.


"Beaming" by Architects of Happiness was a captivating pentaptych installation forming an elegant 'S' shape, celebrating positivity and connection through the universal language of smiles, and enhancing the urban landscape through creative placemaking.
"Beaming" by Architects of Happiness was a captivating pentaptych installation celebrating positivity and connection through the universal language of smiles, and enhancing the urban landscape through creative placemaking.

This expansion also reflects the interests and passions of people. As interest in art, health and wellbeing, the environment and history has become more widespread we’ve seen many more artists and artisans, actors, charities and sports become involved enriching people’s day out and because developers, landowners and BIDs have large estates, they have the opportunity to create on a dramatic scale.  Who isn’t wowed by the most recent installation ‘Field of Dreams’ in the Turbine Hall at Battersea Power Station?

 

Placemaking will always be about increasing numbers of people to a place and what makes this its most exciting moment is that now we have so many ways of achieving it.


Kit and Caboodle’s "The Eggsperience" at Battersea Power Station featured a fun Easter Bunny Trail and family-friendly activities.
Kit and Caboodle’s "The Eggsperience" at Battersea Power Station featured a fun Easter Bunny Trail and family-friendly activities.

It is impossible to miss the rise of trails.  Trails are a wonderful way to get people to explore whole sites and discover new areas, shops and restaurants.  An example of a great trail is one we created in conjunction with Battersea Power Station.  When it first opened, people were naturally wowed by the transformation of the power station itself but the development is so much more than this and the Easter Eggsperience – a trail of huge Easter eggs decorated by well-known artists - proved a great way to encourage families to discover more.  And of course, trails encourage movement!

 

Another great element of trails is that they can make education fun – whether that’s learning about local history, animals and their eggs or science.


"The Happy House" by Architects of Happiness offered an immersive, uplifting haven with motion-activated SAD lighting, sacred geometry, and a bespoke soundscape.
"The Happy House" by Architects of Happiness offered an immersive, uplifting haven with motion-activated SAD lighting, sacred geometry, and a bespoke soundscape.

Combining trails with the wonder of some amazing illuminations are a wonderful and effective way to get people out in the dark months after Christmas when they’re exhausted from parties and celebrations and introduce them to some spectacular artists.  Unsurprisingly, we have seen the rise of Light Festivals.  Canary Wharf has held a celebration of illuminations since 2015 and the size and nature of the estate allows the curators’ imaginations to run wild, while also demonstrating the importance of supporting artists to such a large developer.


Kit and Caboodle transformed Smithson Plaza into a premium open-air Wimbledon viewing experience, making it the ultimate social hub.
Kit and Caboodle transformed Smithson Plaza into a premium open-air Wimbledon viewing experience, making it the ultimate social hub.

Trails and festivals get people moving and so do sports!  They aren’t for everyone but they offer another great way to bring people to places.  Not just watching but also participating.  Putting up a screen and showing a sporting event can encourage people to dwell in places but with a little thought and effort, sporting occasions can transform an area bringing office workers out at lunchtime or encouraging shoppers to grab a sandwich and a coffee and enjoy the moment together.  But the real fun can be had in creating a place for people to enjoy an activity when they visit somewhere or head out.  Something as simple as table tennis can work well but recently ambitions have been much higher. Watch this space for updates on some exciting Summer of Sport activations we’re preparing to launch.  We’re seeing more briefs for ideas that encourage people to participate, not just watch!  And it doesn’t have to be sport.  We loved the installation at the recent Battersea Light Festival that encourages people to battle it out on bikes to power-up the attraction!


Visitors enjoyed retro fun at Coal Drops Yard with neon-lit, ice-free curling lanes and après ski-inspired drinks, showcasing creative placemaking and capturing the vibrant 90's spirit.
Visitors enjoyed retro fun at Coal Drops Yard with neon-lit, ice-free curling lanes and après ski-inspired drinks, showcasing creative placemaking and capturing the vibrant 90's spirit.

On a more serious note, developers, landowners and BIDs are rightly conscious of our environment and environmental concerns and are committed to making sure their sites and developments are as environmentally friendly as possible.  While it can look clumsy to market these initiatives brazenly, activations and experiences can communicate key messages about the area and development, which shoppers and other stakeholders might not know about.  Working with Landsec at their White Rose development in Leeds, we helped them to showcase their commitment to the environment via an a-Maze-ing Honey Bee Maze, finding our inspiration in the bee hives located on the development’s roof.  The fact they can be there is testament to the efforts of Landsec to ensure the development is run in an environmentally conscious way.  The maze we created for children was both fun and informative for them and relaxing for their parents who could watch them go round while enjoying a coffee!


"Bee Amaze-d" brought the buzz of sustainability to life with a themed activation at White Rose, blending fun and educational elements in harmony with the "Bloom" theme across our client's sites.
"Bee Amaze-d" brought the buzz of sustainability to life with a themed activation at White Rose, blending fun and educational elements in harmony with the "Bloom" theme across our client's sites.

Drawing people to spaces creates connection and joy.  As Architects of Happiness we aim to make sure that every activation uplifts and inspires people.  We take an holistic approach to placemaking and because we collaborate with many different types of creatives and artisans we’re not fixated on one type of activation over another.  Starting with a blank sheet of paper, creating happiness is at the heart of everything we do.




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