Yi Ran Weng and Felix Chun Lam, both 2020 Master of Architecture graduates, formed their own design practice, naïvepeopledesign, while they were still students at the Daniels Faculty. They immediately began entering competitions together.
Now, all that extracurricular work is starting to pay off. A project Weng and Lam created in collaboration with another 2020 Daniels Faculty alumnus, Abubakr Bajaman, and Mariya Krasteva, a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, has earned them a precious spot at the upcoming 2021 Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism.
Clockwise from top right: Yi Ran Weng, Felix Chun Lam, Mariya Krasteva, and Abubakr Bajaman.
The biennale, which will take place in the South Korean capital in September (it's unclear, at this point, whether COVID restrictions will allow the event to happen as planned), is a major international showcase for the latest innovations in architecture and urban design. Designers from around the world compete for a limited number of invitations to build official pavilions for the event.
The title of the 2021 biennale will be "Crossroads: Building the Resilient City." When Weng, Lam, Bajaman, and Krasteva began thinking about ways to address that theme, it occurred to them that cities are often only as resilient as their smallest businesses. "Small businesses are often owned by people of colour, or people who don't necessarily have a lot of money to run a store — or even people who have money, but who have been greatly affected by COVID," Weng says.
They knew their design intervention, whatever it was, would have to be applicable in cities around the world. They needed to base their project on something universal — something that could be found just as easily in Canada as in Bulgaria or Hong Kong. That's when it hit them: parking spots.
Renderings of the group's vending stall, installed curbside. Click to view a larger version.
The group designed a new type of mobile, curbside vending stall that could be deposited in a street parking spot, where it would act as a temporary home for a small business. From the outside, the structure looks a bit like a repurposed shipping container. Inside is a bare-bones counter where a vendor could store a few items for sale. Rows of windows provide easy access to customers on the sidewalk or the street. A ladder on the side allows customers to climb onto the roof, where a set of minimalist benches and loungers make it possible to wait for service in relative comfort. The designers called the project "Secret Societies," a nod to the informal social networks that coalesce around small businesses in urban areas.
But their work wasn't done. "We really wanted to use the biennale as not just a place to show beautiful drawings," Weng says. "We wanted to use the platform to provide an answer to how to be resilient. We believe that resiliency comes from the people. If people can find their own resiliency, cities will become much more resilient."
An image of the group's app design. Click to view a larger version.
To show how these miniature curbside stalls could make small businesses more resilient, the group designed an interface for a smartphone app. The app — which is only a mockup, not a usable product — would be a tool for both small business owners and their customers. Owners would use the app to book vending stalls, and customers would use the app to request the presence of particular businesses at vending stalls located in parking spots near their homes.
This app-based booking system would allow small businesses to operate with little or no overhead, wherever their customers happen to be, for however long those customers happen to be there. The designers theorize that this would help these businesses cope with COVID-like economic shocks. The resilience of the business owners would increase, and so would the resilience of the communities that depend on them.
For their pavilion at the biennale, the designers plan to build a full-scale vending stall. They also intend to develop a demonstration version of their smartphone app for attendees to download onto their phones.
To find out more about the Seoul Biennale, visit the event's website.