play with crates

An entry for Main Street Design Challenge, in supporting local businesses and communities across Canada’s main streets, amid the Covid-19 pandemic. Designed with Aster Cai. Full Design Playbook is available for download and free to use.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Vancouver has been looking ahead with a series of programs that aim to help residents and businesses adapt to the new reality of living and operating under a safe environment. Some notable recovery programs that have put emphasis on the open public space include the “50km Slow Streets”, Pop-up Plazas, and the Temporary Expedited Patio Program. 

While these programs have received very positive feedback from the communities, most interventions out of the programs have been seen as rather conventional and repetitive in forms and uses. Therefore, we’d like to put forth two design objectives through our proposal:

  1. To explore various potentials of street interventions that can enhance activities by different users and in different scales;
  2. To explore construction materials that can be readily available and easy to assemble for whoever wish to engage – and the simplicity and flexibility of such assembly can in turn inspire people to discover more typologies and uses that will further animate street activities.

The site for this proposal is based upon an intersection at the Victoria Drive BIA area, which comprises a variety of local retail shops and restaurants along the main street. Potential space for sidewalk patio, curbside patio, and pop-up plaza are available in front of these commercial frontage. On the both sides of the main street also lies the local residential streets, which can be turned into the slow street network and be designated for larger-scale intervention projects.

The design proposal is a series of street interventions that adapts to different settings and illustrates various uses on the site. All the interventions are mostly composed of crates as the basic module – a material that is commonly available in the market and especially to the business group. By orientation and stacking crates differently, different interesting spaces can be created, such as sitting, planting, shopping and lining up.

Given the rigidity and lightness of the module, the intervention can be stacked up rather easily and supported by its own. The variety format and colors of crates also means that each design product can be unique and customized with its context.

Information about demonstrated collaboration with at least one local community stakeholder (e.g. BIA, BID, BIZ, community group, cultural organization, place of worship, artist, heritage group, etc.)

The design proposal illustrated a number of potential uses, which can be picked up and implemented by business owners, community groups, city staff, or anyone who wishes to proceed. 

We see this design not only as an attraction that promotes street activities, but also as toolkits to engage discussions and imaginations on what the community wants for outdoor space enhancement.

Details on design implementation- estimated budget 

It is expected that the overall budget for such an intervention will be similar to the conventional street projects of the same scale.

Details on design implementation- materials and fabrication

As the main assembly material, crates can be found in most local supply stores and at relatively low price. Many business owners may have already stocked a certain amount of crates and can use them for their installation. The sizes and appearances of the crates can vary among each site, based on the resource availability and the preference of its users.

In addition to crates, other main supporting materials include plastic straps, wood pallets, and landscape plantings if needed.

Details on design implementation- installation and other services

The installation process is easy and can be very creative. For smaller products such as sidewalk patios for business, the installation can be expected to complete within hours and with minimum labor. 

For larger community projects, it is recommended to have the group members involved in the assembly process as part of the street activation strategy and for more tailored final products to the community.