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AIA Hampton Roads has embarked on an exciting partnership with the Park Place neighborhood in Norfolk, VA, as part of its strategic plan to better communicate the value of architecture to the general public. The overarching goal? To convey the profound impact architecture has on everyday life and well-being.

The decision to collaborate with the community and create a pop-up park emerged as a creative and impactful way to bring this message to life. The vision is to craft a temporary outdoor "play and just be" space where the community can come together. As the design and production lead, Hanbury's Tony Lin shares some exciting insights into concept behind "Block Party".

Midjourney concept rendering, assembled blocks in various stages of completion at the 757 Makerspace

The Mission:

Activate and highlight the importance of community green spaces
Foster a sense of community utilizing a creative design approach
Empower the neighborhood to cultivate meaningful connections with their spaces
Increase public understanding of what architects do through a collaborative design process
Give back and spread joy to an underserved neighborhood

Approaching the design and fabrication of this project with an 🍊range Juice mindset, we developed the concept of the "Block Party", consisting of 50+ modular plywood blocks that can be moved, stacked, and rearranged on the site to act as seating, tables, and play objects for games. The block system adds a degree of flexibility and agency to the experience of the park, allowing users to experiment with block arrangements that adapt the space to various programs and activities.

The finished blocks themselves are a result of participatory play, as each one is assembled by volunteers choosing from seven-panel types to create blocks with unique combinations of handles and openings. Some will also feature designs painted by local artists.

By designing for CNC fabrication, we were able to mass-produce the blocks with high tolerances and greatly reduce the total amount of manual labor. The blocks are tight-fitting and can be assembled without glue or screws, although we later opted to use glue so they would last longer in outdoor weather.

The “Block Party” Pop-Up Park had its opening day in the historic Park Place neighborhood of Norfolk, VA. AIA Hampton Roads volunteers, including myself, transformed the empty site of a former gas station and car wash on 35th Street into a vibrant pocket of community spirit and fun.

The sun was shining, and the atmosphere was filled with music, the smell of delicious Caribbean food, and the joyful buzz of conversation and laughter. The event brought together Park Place residents, volunteers from AIA HR, families, and children to celebrate the neighborhood.

Event vendors included AIA Hampton Roads, the City of Norfolk Economic Development, Norfolk 2050, the Elizabeth River Trail, NFK Bike Commuter, and Teens With a Purpose.

The pop-up park was a resounding success and the response from the community was overwhelmingly positive. We received many requests to do similar projects in other neighborhoods/sites. For me, the greatest satisfaction came from seeing people embracing and using the blocks in all the ways we’d hoped. Huge thanks to everyone who came out!

The blocks, stage, canopies, and other elements constructed for the Block Party will remain on the site to host future community events.

What began as an idea for a temporary parklet nine months ago has blossomed into a semi-permanent community space, playing a role in Park Place’s aspirations for revitalization. The Block Party resulted from countless hours of meetings, design, and production, most of which occurred after work.

For me, this project has been a profound learning opportunity, not just as the lead for design and production, but as a collaborator working alongside a highly dedicated team of volunteer design professionals from AIA HR to bring a shared vision to life. The process we’ve developed from this initiative will be used to create a framework for future community pop-up projects throughout the Hampton Roads area.

- Tony Lin, Designer