The four-dimensional city: how time becomes the next urban frontier

Jeroen Beekmans, co-founder of Pop-Up City, asks: why not turn university lecture halls into cinemas at night?

Urban expansion has always unfolded either horizontally (sprawl) or vertically (high-rise). With space becoming scarcer and more valuable, the new frontier in urban development is in utilising space that is temporarily unused – not for years, but for hours.

Can we turn empty restaurants into co-working spaces during daytime? Can we sleep in office buildings outside office hours? And why not turn university lecture halls into cinemas at night?

Massive urbanisation across the world leads to a new frontier in urban development. Space has become an increasingly scarce –and therefore an increasingly valuable – asset in urban cores.

Nevertheless, urban space is still used rather inefficiently: restaurants stay empty for almost half the day; valuable office floors in expensive downtown locations are only occupied between nine and five; and cars are just standing there doing nothing 95% of their time.

This situation has inspired new companies and entrepreneurs to launch innovative concepts that use space in a more hybrid and efficient way. New York-based start-up Spacious turns restaurants that are empty during the day into co-working spaces. Founder Preston Pesek realised that many eateries in New York only open at 6pm, leaving an amazing potential of unused furnished space during office hours.

Spacious links all these empty restaurant tables to people who are looking for a co-working desk in their neighborhood and makes sure the wifi works and the coffee machine has fresh beans. The co-working start-up brilliantly matches supply (tables) and demand (work spots) without ever owning real estate itself.

With hardly any cultural venues and the highest land prices in the Netherlands, a hybrid, temporary cinema is a smart idea to make a leisure programme possible

Lecture hall turns into a cinema at night

In Amsterdam, the Free University has teamed up with cinema Rialto to screen movies in its lecture halls outside college hours in the afternoon, evening and over the weekend. It is no surprise this initiative popped up here: the Free University’s buildings are located in the middle of Amsterdam’s rapidly developing central business district.

With hardly any cultural venues for the inhabitants and the highest land prices in the Netherlands, a hybrid, temporary cinema is a smart idea to make a leisure programme possible.

When the district was hit hard during the financial crisis, temporary use was a way to deal with an overload of empty and dysfunctional plots of land. Now, as of 2019, temporary thinking offers solutions for the exact opposite – a lack of space.

Hybrid house

Somewhere else in the Dutch capital, real estate development company BPD is realising Woon&, a residential complex that incorporates the sharing economy. The buildings include guest bedrooms, the co-working space on the ground floor makes its overcapacity available to neighbours, and all residents have access to electric shared cars in collaboration with BMW.

The complex also has a flexible shop space that can change function and owner over the course of the day: coffee bar in the morning, grocery shop in the afternoon, take-away in the evening. This improves the level of service for residents, lowers the financial risk for shopkeepers, and helps the apartment block to be a vibrant space all day long.

It is not only the high pressure on urban space that leads to innovative ways to make more out of it.

A giant leap for mankind

The hybrid use of space emerges not only in buildings, but also in mobility concepts.

In 2012, public transport startup Leap launched a daily commuter service with small vans in San Francisco. The vans do not only offer a trip between home and work, but double as co-working spaces on wheels with desks, wifi, power and quality coffee on board.

Among many other automotive companies that explore the future of self-driving cars and additional functions, Honda not so long ago presented a conceptual house in which one of the rooms is a mobile plug-in unit on wheels, which can also be used as a private van or modern type of caravan.

Besides higher costs of urban space and shifting lifestyles, evolving technology is a third driver of this trend. Mobile technology, artificial intelligence and broad acceptance of, and trust in, online platforms open up possibilities to operate and manage space in smarter and more efficient ways. Hybrid spaces that can host multiple functions over short periods of time are the future of urban life.

Jeroen Beekmans is co-founder of Pop-Up City

Read more: Civic universities: can HEIs drive change in local communities?


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