Reimagining Space-Time in the Temporary City

Elena Harris

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

934 Downloads (Pure)


This thesis explores “pop-up” culture in London, drawing on research conducted in 2014 and 2015. Pop-up refers to a trend for temporary, mobile and interstitial places. Since the 2008 recession, pop-up has become increasingly influential in London, and internationally, as a place-making strategy. It has been embraced by multiple stakeholders including creative practitioners, businesses, local governments, housing developers and charities. I argue that, as pop-up becomes a routine and acclaimed way of producing cities, it is crucial to question the impacts of and agendas behind this celebration of the ephemeral, flexible and unpredictable.
Pop-up is, most centrally, a format for places of entertainment and consumption. Empirically, this thesis focuses on three prominent kinds of pop-up geography in London; pop-up cinemas, shipping container architectures and supper clubs. By examining a series of case studies within these three ‘types’, I offer central insights into how pop-up imagines and distributes urban space-time. I explore the spatiotemporal imaginaries developed and deployed in pop-up culture and question what those imaginaries enable, and for whom, in the climate of precarity it emerged from.
Conceptually, I investigate five ways that pop-up imagines space-time; as immersive, as flexible, as interstitial, as secret and as surprising. I also consider three dimensions of what these imaginaries do. I explore how pop-up’s imaginaries engage sensitivities to space-time as nonlinear, how they can alter precarity as a structure of feeling and how they function as compensatory narratives that make palatable, even desirable, diminished conditions of urban life in times of crisis. Methodologically, the thesis experiments with interactive documentary, a web-based, nonlinear form of multi-media documentary, as a way to investigate imaginaries of space-time. The core argument of the thesis is that pop-up responds to turbulence in the city with nonlinear spatiotemporal imaginaries that normalise, and thereby stabilise without ‘fixing’, precarious urban conditions.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hawkins, Harriet, Supervisor
  • Crang, Philip, Advisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Feb 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • pop-up
  • space-time
  • precarity
  • imaginaries
  • structure-of-feeling
  • compensatory
  • London
  • i-Docs
  • creative methods
  • shipping container
  • pop-up cinema
  • supper club
  • cruel optimism

Cite this