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Architecture With A Social Agenda

It’s always been important to me to use architecture to promote a social agenda. In my work for Planned Parenthood, the architecture furthered the mission of the client—providing excellent services in an excellent environment. Healthcare centers didn’t need to be like prisons. They can be pleasant and open. Planned Parenthood is committed to providing the best health care possible for women and men in America and I was committed to creating the best space for them.

Designing the Kapor Center for Social Impact is about working towards the future. The Center will work to improve access to opportunity, participation and influence in the United States for historically underrepresented communities through investments in information technology.

When I was selected by Mitch and Freada Kapor to design the center, I knew the building had to highlight their mission. We had to transform an existing 1920s-era office building in downtown Oakland into innovative workspace. It had to work within the parameters of their vision and create tangibility to their effort.

But what does that mean? The design had to be elegant, modern, and harmonious, both in function and spirit. It needed a soul. I got literal: a staircase. This circular staircase, which connects all five floors together, creates an open and democratic space, make the building work together as an integrated vision. It also successfully links portions of the new building and old. Visible on all floors, this distinctive shape becomes a sort of architectural icon for the essence of the Kapor work.

The workspaces designed had to have flexibility but privacy—so we created team rooms, pods, open offices and open spaces. Flexibility allows workspaces that encourage collaboration, camaraderie, and innovation. But in an era where start-ups shirk walls and doors, we knew that connection with your surroundings isn’t just about your coworkers.

The Kapors foresight means that green technology was a given to our design. There was an existing building and my work is considered an addition (albeit a sizeable one). As many materials as possible were recycled or sourced locally and the foundation itself is environmentally sensitive. Some of our carpeting is even made from recycled fishnets! The building will be LEED platinum certified thanks to features like silver panels, natural ventilation, green finishes.

And finally, I wanted the architecture be unpretentious. Because that caters to the reality of the building, to the mission of the Center. It’s meant to be a space to invite the interaction of staff, partners, and visitors. That’s why one of the buildings main features, the auditorium, is visible from the street. What Kapor communicates isn’t meant to be behind closed doors and in the darkness, we want their message to be in the open.

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