National projects

pop-up environments

Urban pop-up housing environments (PUEs) and their potential as local innovation systems
The aim of the project

The project aim is to contribute to the transition of the construction sector from linear to circular models, by using temporary PUEs, so as to make urban reuse strategies more sustainable in social, economic and environmental terms, in an attempt to find adaptable and flexible paradigms for different urban contexts.


The need for temporary housing particularly in urban environments is expected to increase dramatically. To address these urgent demands, it is important to find affordable and flexible but sustainable and reusable concepts that are easy to construct and rapid to implement. However, to go one step further, temporary housing will be conceptualized as local innovation systems. In this respect, this proposal focuses on an inter- and trans-disciplinary approach to systematically investigate and evaluate existing temporary housing options, and to create holistic, innovative and sustainable models for pop-up living systems in urban environments.

Methods from urban and landscape planning, architecture and building systems technologies are interlinked to resource related disciplines such as energy optimization, green technologies, sustainable waste management, water supply and wastewater treatment as well as social and political sciences. Diverse modelling approaches are integrated into a cross-disciplinary model and subsequent scenarios of pop-up housing environments are developed for different target groups and types of urban spaces. Risk assessment approaches as well as energy and life-cycle-assessments are applied to evaluate the housing models. This research clearly goes beyond state-of-the-art, since for the first time a systemic modelling approach is applied to develop high-quality and sustainable temporary housing environments as innovation niches within urban systems.

Temporary housing scenarios

Within the project, six possible temporary housing scenarios were defined for the context of Vienna. The scenarios were developed with the aid of stakeholders and six suitable areas for temporary housing in the city were identified.

Six suitable areas for temporary housing in the Viennese context
  1. vacant lots, understood as urban gaps due to the lack of buildings in densely constructed lots;
  2. empty buildings, like factories and industries that have fallen into disuse and are now abandoned;
  3. large green open spaces (whereby these spaces provide important functions which must be taken into consideration);
  4. rail traffic areas which are no longer in use and the reuse of train wagons for residential purposes;
  5. vacant ground floor retail spaces, before a new destination is found;
  6. bodies of water, like rivers, and the reuse of old cargo ships.
Developed scenarios

The scenarios were developed by alchemia-nova and the consortium in a step-by-step process:

  1. definition of the scenario (during workshops with interested stakeholders);
  2. concept design (in collaboration with the students of the “POPUP SHELTER – Design Studio” course at the Technical University of Vienna);
  3. architecture modelling for the definition of the physical 3D models (lead by alchemia-nova);
  4. model assessment for the definition of energy, materials and waste flows.
Project Progress

As part of the ongoing project, the six scenarios were at different levels of development while the questionnaire sessions were being conducted: scenarios #1, #2 and #3 were completely defined regarding concept and architecture and almost completed regarding the model assessment. For scenarios #4, #5 and #6, concepts and architectures were defined, but the model assessment was still ongoing. Among the various benefits considered for the selection of scenarios, the reuse of building gaps (scenario #1), empty buildings (scenario #2) and vacant ground floor retail spaces (scenario #5) have the objective to give back to the community spaces which are otherwise cut off from the urban context. There are also positive impacts regarding transport, energy conservation and raw materials, since the structures are already there, and large quantities of new building materials are not necessary. The realization of PUEs in green and shaded spaces has the objective of finding new and cooler areas of the city to escape heat islands (scenario #3), while the reuse of trains (scenario #4) and ships (scenario #6) allows a second life for the vehicles, the use of otherwise unused spaces and efficient transportation of the housing units to European destinations along the railway or river networks.

Drivers and barriers for international transferability

In order to explore drivers and barriers of the scenarios regarding the international transferability of the concepts, online questionnaire sessions were conducted with an international audience. The feedback obtained by the participants allowed an analysis of the applicability of the concepts to other urban environments under comparable conditions at the international level. The results obtained from the questionnaire sessions allowed insight on the international perception of temporary pop-up environments and, specifically, strengths and weaknesses of the scenarios, as well as their possible applicability in the local contexts of the respondents. It was observed that while the perceptions of what requirements temporary housing must fulfill in order to be sustainable are quite uniform among the experts, the identified barriers for implementation within the different international contexts differed greatly. The designs of these temporary housing scenarios, which rely heavily on local resources and systems, are strongly interwoven with the fabric and conditions of the city they were conceptualized for. While this serves to promote the sustainability of these solutions, it poses a particular challenge for the international transferability, requiring heavy adaptation for other contexts.


More information on the project can be found on the project website.  Within this project Bertino et al. published Framework Conditions and Strategies for Pop-Up Environments in Urban Planning” in the special issue Urban Planning and Social Well-being of the Sustainability Journal, 2019.

The second paper “Urban Pop-Up Housing Environments and Their Potential as Local Innovation Systems”. got published in the Journal “Applied Science” in the special issue “Sustainable and Durable Building Materials”.

A summary of project results and outcomes can be found here