As the designer, barista and co-creator team behind Melbourne’s long term pop-up Place Holder, Sonam Sherpa and Sam King divulge their visions for nurturing and developing better utilised, more creative cities.
It was a love of design, a background in coffee and a desire to create something new that inevitably led Sonam Sherpa and Sam King to open their own café, Place Holder. Located on Melbourne’s Smith Street — an area already saturated with good coffee and great spaces — the café is there for a good time, not a long time. With a 12-month expiry date, Place Holder is a new kind of pop-up — a fixed-space answer to the city’s rapidly evolving, high turnover café culture.
When the opportunity to take over the space came to them from urban developers Neometro, the two used their hospitality experience and Sherpa’s background in architecture to design, build and launch Place Holder as an intimate coffee operation. The temporary nature of the project has given them the unique opportunity to fill an immediate gap in the city’s café culture while utilising urban space.
We chat to Sonam and Sam from Place Holder about their visions for creating better cities.
Q: Place Holder is essentially a pop-up, what do pop-ups and temporary fixtures add to a city?
Sonam: With the appearances of high streets these days being clad in ‘For Lease’ signs and empty shops, it is apparent that the old lease formulas are not as relevant as they used to be. People are hesitant to trial their new business models and their concepts, instead the pop-up or temporary lease agreements allow for us to experience new models and fresh approaches. The temporary nature of the pop-up culture adds a new layer to the city and allows for new opportunities and testing grounds for new catalytic pursuits.
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Q: With so many vacant or disused spaces, how do you think our cities could better utilise public and private spaces?
Sonam: I believe that this pop-up phenomenon should remain organic and not become regulated. Through freethinking artists, entrepreneurs and designers, the spaces will become consolidated. They just need to be opened up. For example, we tried to get a previous project off the ground only to be completely shut down by council for wanting to occupy a dormant closed off private space that was classified a car park.
Sam: I think Melbourne especially loves a temporary space, so I can see many more pop-ups and community gardens springing up in the near future.
Q: You both have backgrounds in hospitality, what do you think coffee and cafe culture adds to a city?
Sonam: Coffee is the drum that makes the beat for cities to march to. Cafés provide the environment to set the rhythm. The cafe culture is what sets the tone for your day. Melbourne is lucky enough to have the best cafe culture in the world, we have enough variety to help position what you feel like and what you will do that day.
Sam: On a local level, I think cafés bring a sense of community [to a city] and serve as an extension of one’s office or living room.
Q: How important is the design and architecture of venues (hospitality and otherwise) in creating a cultural city?
Sonam: The spatial orchestration of a venue is what is most important to me. If you want to be higher or subservient to your customer you can through simple design strategies. I am all about transparency and equality of trade. Creative cities require an equality through their trade practices to allow people in to their respective worlds to see different processes. It’s my belief that creativity, like design, requires precedent.
Q: How have you seen Melbourne and/or other Australian cities evolve in the last few years?
Sonam: This one is tricky and I think I’ll answer from my perspective as a Melbourne person. Australian cities are profiling their creative industries as tourism draw cards. What makes a city truly creative is multiple levels of art, design and free thinking that permeates through the fabric of the environment of the city.
Sam: I started working at [coffee roastery and cafe] Seven Seeds just as the specialty coffee scene hit Melbourne and it has been amazing to see how cafe culture has erupted here over the last 6-7 years, to the point that I can no longer keep up with the amount of cafes that are opening every week.
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Q: What do you think people want from their city?
Sonam: Realistically — convenience. But I think people also want a city that has multiple layers and cultures that they are constantly surprising. I think hospitality is very important in providing these portals into foreign worlds for people.
Q: What cultural drivers do you think are instrumental in getting people to engage with public space?
Sam: I think social media and online publications such as Broadsheet really inform and encourage people to engage with public space.
Q: What are your favourite cities?
Sonam: Tokyo, Bangkok, Kolkata.
Sam: Too many to choose. New York, Paris, Rome.