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Relay Race

Seth and I just wrapped up a wildly fast café for the co-working space Galvanize. Instead of a traditional lobby/waiting room setup, Galvanize brought us in to design a full-service public coffee shop. And we only had a few months to pull it off.

I really liked the idea, but knew that the schedule would be our biggest challenge. The café is designed to be super-efficient while providing a little something special to the well-kept industrial building. When you look around, you’ll see a lot of existing exposed metal hardware, some dating back to when it was a bustling grocery warehouse, some that was recently added by the architecture firm that used to be there, but all pretty cool-looking. That combination of hardware provided an aesthetic point we happily chose to follow. So we decided to make a big deal out of the metal hardware we were adding to the space, and got the chance to work closely with the local fabricator, Sol Design Lab.

I took part in a similar exercise during the build-out for Sightglass on 20th. In a way, we created a product line of metal hardware – each piece subtly refers to the others, but has its own function and can totally hold its own. The dramatic pendant light fixtures talk to the quieter sconce fixtures, which relate to (and can be incorporated into) the shelf brackets, and that motif can even be traced down to the hooks that display the sleeve of the record on deck. It was an inspiring process, and when it came time to design the focus for the Galvanize Café, Seth and I took our eyes off of the finish line and put our eyes behind some welding masks in our shop.

I wanted to start imagining the smallest component, and let it grow and adapt to accommodate other applications. I started sketching the bracket that holds the wood bar over the stone counter, and Seth and I both liked one that sort of resembled the letter “Y”. And then we just ran with it. Our schedule made constructability critical. We knew that if it was too hard for us to put it together in a day, it would take too much time for the fabricators to put 40 of these together in a few weeks. Admittedly Seth did most of the dirty work, but I drilled some artfully off-center holes through steel, and stood by to strategize as issues came up. We built one bracket, and I have to say it felt pretty awesome. We brought that to our next site meeting, handed it off to the fabricator, and they took it from there. Recalling the experience of putting one together, I came up with details for similar metal pieces for the rest of the space – table legs, wall shelf brackets and the like. It was exciting to see what the fabricators changed – they bent some angles instead of cutting and welding them, they chose to plug weld to save time, and they were able to turn around an INCREDIBLE amount of work in a very short period. It was a bit of a relay race, and that heavy metal bracket was our baton.

Putting that mock up together allowed me to be on the same level as our fabricator. Their decision-making processes were much clearer; I was working with experts, but I was also collaborating with teammates. Those little brackets hold a story. They’re unique, efficient and special. They talk to the older hardware in the space, but don’t imitate any of them. And, for me, they represent the effectiveness of our teamwork. Which is totally sappy, but also pretty great.