The Oakland facility is designed to route pupil pivots to the grocery financial institution
A food center, originally opened for this fall to provide Oakland students with local food (thank you, Alice Waters) instead of frozen or mass produced lunches, opened early and is now used as a space for the collection and distribution of Around 5,000 meals a day for the needy, from the homeless to people who are about to lose their jobs.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which has declined most personal tasks online, has cut approval deadlines in many cities, including San Francisco, a city known for its relentless reverence for the bureaucracy, outrageous regulatory commissions, and high-profile public input who routinely holds up projects for months – sometimes years.
“We didn’t have to move walls or anything, but the approval process was accelerated,” said Brent McClure, Principal and Lead Architect at CAW Architects, the Palo Alto-based company that designed The Center.
McClure opened on April 15 and said it took only three weeks instead of months to get the permits completed.
The methodically designed space now functions as a food bank operated jointly by the school district and the Alameda County Community Food Bank for the entire county.
For five years, CAW designed the facility, which includes a central main kitchen for district food production, culinary classrooms and even an urban farm, all designed to support approximately 37,000 students in nearly 100 schools in the Oakland Unified School District.
The center also features a series of rhythmic wooden slat terrace cladding, adding more architectural flair to the building than the listless bureaucratic look found in many buildings in an urban school district.
While no structural changes were required to make the center’s seamless transition to a grocery bank, the usual red tape, which typically takes months to remove, was not a problem.
The terrace area of the center.
The center’s new, if temporary, life as a grocery bank will last as long as the housing orders remain in place. This can be from June 1st, when orders are expected to end, through late summer.
This immediate shift in priorities shows that when architects and authorities work together, they can have a positive impact on urban planning and the response to emergencies.
“This project sets the standard for a new model of scalability in food justice and community wellbeing,” says McClure.
As life unfolds over the next few months – or years – after staying at home, architects face a new challenge.
“Architects need to think about designing spaces where people can feel safe, but above all feel connected to one another,” explains McClure. “More than ever, we need to create humane spaces where people can build a sense of community and come together while at the same time creating a sense of security.”
The center, with its organic partnerships between the school district and the County Food Bank, is “in some ways an example of community building during the pandemic.”