Design Firm: FENNIE + MEHL Architects
It’s not often professional design firms get the chance to encourage students and undiscovered entrepreneurs to give back to their local economy in new original ways. But by providing The House in Berkeley, California with design services pro bono, countless ideas are coming to life on Bancroft Way. In 2016 the House Fund launched a non-profit startup called The House to provide resources that were previously unavailable for budding and overlooked entrepreneurs associated with, but not necessarily students at UC Berkeley. When The House met the design team, they lacked a space to offer resources to their community. A bootstrapped space conducive to ideation. Spaces conducive to ideation are not traditional offices, but instead are centered around manipulation of the interior, generating creativity and originality. In this spirit, the design concept interprets The House’s space not as a literal home but as a metaphorical garage. Whether the garage is where you start a business, practice with your band, or are consumed by hobbies, for creative minds it’s a place to have the ultimate freedom to break away from reality, from norms, from the office and truly ideate. With a design concept developed, The House still lacked construction and furniture partners to execute the design. The designers approached two long-term partners, a local general contractor and a global furniture manufacturer about teaming up and donating services. Because of their philanthropic focus on education, the furniture manufacturer donated $300,000 of furniture. Similarly inspired by the cause, the contractor waived their fee for construction services. With these commitments in place, the design team mentored the project’s architecture student representatives on the project’s development, management and process.
The House includes workspace for startups and founders, technical resources, mentorship, events (including a recent talk by Steve Wozniak), networking opportunities, and community support. All in less than 7,000 sf. The open plan offers ultimate flexibility, with most of the central area available for new founders working in rows of fliptop tables on casters. The furniture allows for heads-down work areas that can be broken down, reconfigured, or removed altogether. Ceiling-mounted power cables can be coiled up when not in use, similar to a mechanic’s garage. The perimeter is lined with work rooms delineated by demountable glass partitions that were donated by the furniture group. Separating the main workspace from the front cafe area is a series of sliding track pegboards that can be oriented to provide little to ample visual privacy between the two major zones of the space. Ideas are tacked on these boards, or scrawled on rolling whiteboards scattered throughout.
Highlighting the city’s culture, a student artist was engaged to create a custom mural, a funky interpretation of Berkeley and the work of The House. The street-facing storefront display, built from recycled materials, showcases the full array of House products made available to the community. The House has not only inspired a fresh entrepreneurial spirit in Berkeley, but it has also inspired a local design team, general contractor, and furniture manufacturer to explore new partnerships outside the industry norm. Together, the team hopes that the garage concept and the dedicated collaboration of giving is a template that will inspire creative community spaces around other universities.VOTE HERE