by Neometro

Phase One Coffee

Design - by Open Journal

In a time when people and information move faster than ever before, cities themselves are now in a constant state of transformation. But change isn’t always quick when it comes to urban redevelopment. It’s during these lengthy evolutions that a gap between the present and the future forms, often resulting in unused urban spaces that are a denied asset to the surrounding community.

The quality of a street or neighbourhood isn’t simply defined by its physical features, but by the way spaces are used. When physical space stands empty it’s noticeable, and that’s where temporary site activations like Phase One Coffee come in.

First devised in 2014 by Sonam Sherpa and Sam King as Place Holder’s, the original incarnation was a yearlong pop-up café inside Neometro’s 9 Smith Street in Fitzroy. Having worked in hospitality parallel to completing his Masters in Landscape Architecture, Sherpa, alongside King, was excited by a temporary project as his first venture into café ownership.

Place Holder at 9 Smith Street by Neometro

Place Holder at 9 Smith Street by Neometro

The pair were provided with the space’s outer shell and designed the rest on their own. The design brief was the neighbourhood itself; the design “needed to fit with the community’s aesthetic”, along with that of the adjacent art gallery and outside space. The result was small but “clean, consistent and welcoming”, and soon Sherpa and King found themselves serving nearly “300 people a day”.

It was during the first iteration of Place Holder that Sonam realised what he wanted to do with his life, finding the experience incredibly “dynamic and self- driven”. After Place Holder wrapped up he set up Shop Front Coffee around the corner on Victoria Parade, which kept many of his previous Place Holder regulars.

Sherpa sees cafés as an essential part of an urban community and believes that “when people start cafés they should create them with the surrounding culture in mind”.

“Cafés are really important as meeting grounds because you have this constantly accessible place to engage with people everyday and form a dialogue”, says Sherpa. “People have rituals around these things and then they share those rituals by sharing that space with others. Soon those people create a familiarity and generate routines that overlap and then they become friends through that”.


Sonam Sherpa. Photo: Tom Ross.

“And with living arrangements getting smaller and tighter people want to meet with others outside of their house’s but still within a space they feel comfortable. Coffee becomes this amazing vehicle to create this community – one of the hardest things about making these temporary spaces is having to step out of it and leave that community you’ve helped create behind”.

Now Place Holder has its second coming at Jewell Station as Phase One Coffee. A more homogenous space, the café bleeds straight into an events space that looks over the outside space by 3000acres – an urban farming and retail based social enterprise. Together the grouping of pop-ups acts as a precursor to what will soon be a New Urban Village by Neometro, bringing life and energy to their surroundings.

The significance of Phase One Coffee is translated through its name – it defies vacancy and the problems that can produce. Pre-development spaces stand empty all over the world; wasted opportunities and visible eyesores that given the chance, could be helping generate a better image, economy and community for the neighbourhoods in which they reside.

Place Holder at 9 Smith Street by Neometro

Place Holder at 9 Smith Street by Neometro

“I think when it comes to the activation component it’s really good, I’ve always said it’s more than just a sales pitch and it’s a great way of getting that overlap going. I think it’s nice to have that community overlap and it’s really important”, says Sherpa.

“And in some way if what happens during that activation is absorbed into the next step of that development then that’s really amazing. Rather than it just being an isolated experience that eventually gets demolished and then you start again”.

Temporary site activations allow people to see what can actually happen in their area or what they could have if they lived in that area – but the buck doesn’t stop, nor does it start, there. Pop-up urbanism works best when the community is aware it’s not a one-off, which is only achieved if it evolves into a mixed-use environment.

Alec bringing his expert brews in front of the mural by Ash Keating.

Alec bringing his expert brews in front of the mural by Ash Keating.

Mixed-use developments attract diverse use by different groups of people and the consequence of that isn’t superficial. Rather than an area made up of lifeless street-facing garages and roller-doors, the community is supported with areas with which they can meet and engage with each other. In their temporary forms, like Phase One Coffee, and their future fixed forms, cafés within these developments break down the barrier between private and public spaces.

On a large scale, private space promotes isolation, while public space implies social inclusion and shared interests. Cafés – or any active frontage – as a part of a development are central to the creation of pedestrian streets; their existence adds vibrancy to a neighbourhood and integrates the development more readily into the community.

Underneath all this, Phase One Coffee creates a sense of place, an atmosphere that will purposefully carry through into the next stage of the space it operates within. Sonam Sherpa explains it best in one short sentiment; “the most important issue is bridging that gap between what it was, to what it will be”.

Words: Eleanor Scott.

Phase One is serving specialty coffee and bagels at 15A Union St Brunswick Mon-Fri: 7-4pm, Sat-Sun: 8-4pm


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