By Ben Welty & Jess Stuenkel
Over the years the folks here at Feldman Architecture have participated in many rewarding pro-bono experiences, primarily brought to the attention of the office by an individual with a desire to lend a hand within the community. We have participated in CANstruction, Rebuilding Together, AFSF Student Mentorship, and The LEAP Sandcastle Contest. But in 2017 we decided to create a dedicated budget for our pro-bono work and look for non-profit organizations that were in need of architectural services. We look to the 1+ Program for insights into setting up our budget and getting us connected. It didn’t take long until we were set up to work with two amazing non-profit organizations that needed space upgrades. Playworks, who works to bring out the best in kids through play, and CUESA whose mission is to cultivate a healthy food system through community & education.
For over two decades now Playworks has been assisting schools and youth programs make the most of recess by providing resources to promote safety, engagement and empowerment while demonstrating the power of “Play.” Our partnership with Playworks began in 2016 after we connected with them via 1+, an organization that connects non-profits with architects offering pro-bono work. Headquartered in Oakland, CA, Playworks had outgrown their 9,000+ square foot national office and were in need of a larger space, with a caveat being that they had a strong desire to remain in their Jack London Square neighborhood. Knowing that it would take an indefinite amount of time to find a new space, it was decided that we’d first focus on improving the quality and efficiency of their current space by replacing their dated cubicles with sit/stand workstations that provided additional capacity while promoting more social interaction throughout the workplace. However, this would only be a temporary fix as the search continued for a new home.
Over the course of the next year and a half we assisted in the assessment of potential office locations, eventually landing on a 16,000 square foot collection of former warehouse spaces a mere three blocks away from their current digs. On a strict budget but with the need to compete with tech and other local industries to attract talented and qualified employees, we kicked off the project in late 2017 with the goal to provide a workplace that honored their culture and values and, as Playworks describes it, a place to “experience play as a professional.” Scheduled to open in early 2019, their new headquarters will offer just that – open office spaces with high ceilings, exposed roof structure and skylights; casual “living rooms” to serve as informal breakout spaces; a mesh “area” with bleacher seating for all-office gatherings and a glass rollup garage door opening onto an interior courtyard; and a large assembly space for training their coaches and holding other Playworks and community events. What began as picking out desks and chairs has turned into what will be the firm’s largest office project to date. And one of the most rewarding as well!
In addition to running three major farmers markets in the Bay Area, including the Ferry Building Farmers Market, CUESA has a cute teaching kitchen nestled behind large sliding doors in the south arcade of the Ferry Building. The small kitchen has a big presence as an informal space that brings together kids, communities, chefs and farmers. CUESA uses this space to teach kids about where their food comes from, and teaches them the glory of fresh fruits and vegetables. They provide a direct connection between farmers & the community and present high-class chef’s to anyone willing to gather around and listen. The kitchen space itself has been in use for many years, and is made up of donated equipment and love. In collaboration with NG Associates we have taken on the project to reimagine what this little kitchen space can be and how it can better serve its community. We are in the early stages of the project, but are very excited to begin!
This winter, CUSEA held their annual fundraising Gala which I was graciously able to attend with my partner Chris. I was overwhelmed by the support for CUESA and the amazing food prepared by some of the best chef’s in the Bay Area, all who donated their time. The excitement and commitment to the cause was palpable and the night was loads of fun. If you’re interested in learning more about CUESA, check out this short film about the kids’ food program, and keep your eyes peeled for any public events CUESA presents as they are bound to be delicious.
Video link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uMlEAy7VR58