To coincide with the renowned SXSW Interactive Festival, the tech-friendly London Borough of Hackney brought its energy and hubbub to a Gensler-designed pop-up expo in Austin, where Hackney start-ups and creative agencies like Mind Candy and Poke could show their wares. The venue was a derelict retail space at the corner of Congress and E. 8th. With a theme of “Design, Make, Place” and a roster of talks and workshops on everything from designing smart cities to the rise of workplace manufacturing, Hackney House @SXSW served as the borough’s embassy to the festival’s tech throngs for three days in March.
The storefront’s aura of urban grit and raw possibility provided the perfect backdrop for showcasing the rapid reinvention under way in London’s technology sector. “Hackney is like New York’s SoHo used to be,” Gensler’s Duncan Swinhoe says. To capture that edgy spirit, Gensler built on the unfinished look of the space with reclaimed shipping pallets, industrial lighting rigs, red vinyl signage, and simple wood booths. Exposed concrete columns doubled as display surfaces and the pallets, backlit with color-changing LEDs, zigzagged along the main wall like a slatted screen. “Parts of the ceiling were hanging down,” says Gensler’s Ross Burgoyne. “It was much more compelling lit up than if we’d tried to make it polished or slick.”
Gensler designed Hackney House to be installed in just three days. Flexible, it gave Hackney businesses a lot of leeway in setting up their own stands. In the evenings, the stage came down to make way for mixers and events. “We made it approachable so people could come in, pick things up, and find out what was happening,” says Burgoyne. It worked: foot traffic increased twofold over last year. “There was a real buzz about the place,” adds Swinhoe.
Just as quickly as it came, it went. Right after the festival’s close, all of the pop-up’s makings were stripped away and either returned, recycled, or stored away for Hackney House’s next incarnation. A week after the Hackney team descended on the vacant space, “there was very little to show that Hackney House had ever been in Austin,” says Burgoyne. “It was like a clean getaway.”