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Competition: Black Balsam Laboratory

An open international contest has been launched for a series of pop-up Riga Black Balsam cocktail bars around the world (Deadline: 20 April)

The competition seeks proposals for demountable ‘workstations’ where visitors can learn how to mix cocktails using the traditional Latvian herbal liqueur which is thought to use the world’s oldest bitters recipe.

The project aims to boost the appeal of the drink by delivering a series of pop-up cocktail bars in prominent locations around the world. Proposals should have enough space for at least one bartender and an area for up to 10 visitors to create their own Balsam-based cocktails.

Riga, Latvia

Riga, Latvia

Source: Image by Raul Cortez999

Riga, Latvia

According to the brief: ‘The structure itself would need to be easily assembled and disassembled, and all of its parts should fit into one standard container to allow for easy transport. The design of the laboratories should integrate both the old and the new; combining the century-long traditions of Black Balsam with the innovations of modern cocktails.

‘The Black Balsam Laboratories should be a place for audiences to learn about Balsam’s history, while at the same time recognising its new and bold qualities as a cocktail ingredient, encouraging fans to see the beverage in a different light. Riga Black Balsam has expressed an intent to develop the structure in the future.’

Black Balsam was invented by Riga-based pharmacist Abraham Kunze during the 18th century and is a blend of 24 different plants, flowers, buds, juices, roots, oils and berries. The spirit drink – which is thought to cure colds and indigestion – is prepared in oak barrels and distributed in handmade ceramic vessels.

Riga Black Balsam

Riga Black Balsam

Source: Image by Simm

Riga Black Balsam

Submissions should be simple to assemble and disassemble with all components capable of fitting inside a 2.43m-wide, 2.59m-high and 6.06m-long transport container. Concepts must be suitable for both indoor and outdoor use.

Online applications should be in English and include display boards featuring sketches, renderings, plans, sections, elevations and diagrams. Judges include Collin Anderson of Renzo Piano Building Workshop, Daniel Jacobs from New York-based SHoP Architects, and John Simons of KPF.

The overall winner – due to be announced 20 June – will receive a $3,000 USD top prize while a second prize of $1,500, and third prize of $500 will also be awarded, along with a $500 student award and green award and six honourable mentions.

How to apply


The registration deadline is 20 April and submissions must be completed by 24 May.


Advance registration from 6 January to 23 February: $120 professionals / $100 students
Late registration from 24 February to 20 April: $140 professionals / $120 students

Contact details


Visit the competition website for more information

Bucky Bar case study: Q&A with DUS Architects

The Amsterdam-based practice discusses lessons learned designing a pop-up bar for Rotterdam

How did your project deliver a visually appealing, fast-to-assemble and low-cost bar?

On Friday evening, 19th February, the illegal appearance of the Bucky Bar led to a spontaneous wintertimestreet party. The dome bar, made entirely of umbrellas, seemed to appear suddenly out of nowhere around a lamppost in the centre of Rotterdam. The fully equipped bar, complete with DJ and drinks, was built directly on site. Approximately 300 visitors danced, despite the cold under the umbrella roof, until at 2 am when the police ended the party, as it had no permit. The Bucky Bar was part of a series of five unsolicited positive proposals for the future of the city of Rotterdam, which DUS architects in collaboration with the NAi Studio for Unsolicited Architecture launched by night by modifying official municipal billboards, pasting their own ideas over the top.

Bucky Bar by DUS Architects

Bucky Bar by DUS Architects

Bucky Bar by DUS Architects

Which architectural, material, visual and other methods did you harness in your design?

The Bucky Bar was first in the series to be realised, made from the most common and yet most unusual of building materials: umbrellas. The title refers to the great American inventor, Buckminster Fuller, who demonstrated how minimal-energy geodesic domes could open a way to a more environmentally sustainable future. Could an umbrella dome lead the way to a more socially sustainable future? The Bucky Bar is a full-scale model of such a future. It shows the power of space for spontaneous gathering, for improvised shelters to host conversations, debates, games or even parties.

Bucky Bar by DUS Architects

Bucky Bar by DUS Architects

Bucky Bar by DUS Architects

Q&A with Collin Anderson

The jury member and architect at Renzo Piano Building Workshop discusses his ambitions for the contest

Why are your holding a competition for pop-up cocktail workshops?

We like to think of competition-organiser Bee Breeders as a generator of new ideas that push architecture forward. Each competition presents a topic with particular design challenges. As with all its competitions, Bee Breeders’ Black Balsam Laboratory seeks international participation. By providing a global platform for discussion, it draws from a limitless talent pool, with themes that provoke new ways of thinking from every continent. Participants are consistently proving to us that there are no limits on how to realise, draw, and express architecture and urbanism.

What is your vision for the Black Balsam installations?

This particular project is focused on designing a mobile workstation for a traditional Latvian liqueur. Riga Black Balsam is an iconic Latvian drink, created from a combination of ingredients, including herbs, roots, berries, and fruit juices. The liqueur has been produced for centuries but its experimental use in cocktails is a relatively new trend. The ‘Black Balsam Laboratory’ has the potential to share this Latvian tradition and adapt it to the tastes of people everywhere. It will function equally as a taste-testing station and a workshop for new mixes tailored to users and their preferred ingredients.

Participants are asked to present designs for a transportable structure that could be used to experiment with cocktail combinations. The structure must be designed so that it can be easily assembled and dismantled, with all the parts fitting into a standard 20-foot shipping container. This laboratory should accommodate one workstation for a host bartender, as well as guest workstations for visitors to mix and personalise Balsam-based cocktails. Bee Breeders asks that the design both represents the traditional aspects of and promotes a fresh approach to the beverage.

What sort of architects and designers are you hoping will apply?

We love the idea of creating a place that simultaneously brings people together and crowd-sources for new tastes, and we expect this topic will appeal to a huge range of design students and professionals. While it is generally geared towards a younger pool of architects, Bee Breeders expects to receive entries from designers or inventors of all ages.

The Bee Breeders website by nature provides exposure to great projects produced by emerging talents. Winners gain media exposure with articles and announcements in several of the world’s most-visited architecture websites. In addition to publicity, this competition also offers a large prize pool of US $6,000. Past winners have been commissioned for other projects by clients from a variety of industries.

Which other design opportunities are on the horizon and how will the architects/designers be procured?

Our competitions have dissected a wide range of topics, from a shelter for trekkers in the Himalayan mountains, to a pavilion for advocating tolerance located in Moscow’s Red Square, and most recently, a community hub for creatives in Adelaide, Australia. Some of the competitions are conceptual in nature while others are intended to be realised.

We have a widening spectrum of design competitions planned for the near future, challenging participants with unique problems. These include calls for designs of a viewing station at the eye of a Turkish volcano, an Icelandic guesthouse for experiencing the northern lights, and an ongoing series focused on affordable housing in cities around the world.