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wHY Architects' new youth center in East Palo Alto will center the community

Rendering of interior of East Palo Alto Youth Arts & Music Center (Courtesy wHY Architects)

The work of Los Angeles based firm wHY Architects is known for its simplicity, attention to detail and ethical sourcing of building materials. As the renderings indicate, these sensibilities were all employed in the design of the nearly-completed East Palo Alto Youth Arts & Music Center (YAMC), also known as the EPACENTER. The building will bring much-needed public programs to East Palo Alto, California, which has recently started to shed its notorious public-safety profile.

The project was first made possible thanks to the San Francisco-based John & Marcia Goldman Foundation, which purchased the post-industrial marshland site for $3.5 million, with the intention of developing a facility for underserved members of the community. The site is across the street from the recently-built Ravenswood Family Health Center and down the street from College Track, a nonprofit which offers programs to grade school students in the community.

Looking at a squat timber building

Rendering of exterior of East Palo Alto Youth Arts & Music Center (Courtesy wHY Architects)

wHY Architects was invited to design a multiprogram building on the site in Summer 2015, under the condition that they engage with the area’s youth demographic during an initial eight-month collaborative design process. According to the firm, these engagements were carried out to “build trust and establish expectations for the YAMC, and more importantly, to effectively identify and harness the creative discussions and engagements into the final design.” Additionally, wHY Architects developed the design for the 24,000-square-foot building in collaboration with Hood Design Studio, a social art and design practice founded in Oakland, California.

Like many of wHY Architect’s public projects, EPACENTER is altruistic in nature: its programming will address the issue of gentrification by offering spaces for the preexisting community to foster creative production, while many of its building materials are upcycled industrial elements found around the city. As Palo Alto Online expressed during the early phase of its construction, “The center will be an enormous boon for the community, not only as a safe and peaceful space in a city known for its high crime rates, but one where residents struggling against a rising tide of external forces—gentrification, climbing rents, new office buildings—can celebrate and maintain their city’s culture as it is today.” The exterior of the building will have a bold presence, including a thick wooden roof structure and boldly colored tilework, while its interior will be airy and light-filled, complete with inviting built-in seating and shaded outdoor spaces. The project is scheduled to wrap up in 2020.

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