Fougeron Architecture transforms a 1920s building into a home for organizations fighting for tech industry diversity
Like a big house accommodating different family members, the new Kapor Center needed to support three distinct-but-related organizations: Kapor Capital, the Kapor Center for Social Impact, and the Level Playing Field Institute. Each needed to share modern offices and venues for gatherings, tours, and discussions, all in one building, but without leaving each function isolated and cut-off. Additionally, the design had to fit within an existing 1920s building on an irregular site in the heart of Oakland, California. All three groups are dedicated to increasing the tech industry's diversity, though approach the challenge from different angles: Kapor Capital invests in companies that address social inequalities, the Center builds partnerships to increase Oakland residents' access to the tech sector, and the Institute tackles barriers to minorities learning STEM subjects. All three groups are also the work of tech industry veterans Mitch Kapor and Freada Kapor Klein; the husband-and-wife team held a design competition and tapped San Francisco–based Fougeron Architecture to build a new Center to consolidate their efforts. "We love mission-driven architecture," said firm founder Anne Fougeron. "For us, it represents, in some ways, the furthering of the missions we had with Planned Parenthood," a longstanding and repeat client for Fougeron Architecture. At the heart of Fougeron's pitch were two cylindrical volumes located atop one another that could unite the project's diverse programming. The bottom volume connects the ground floor to a lower level that features a double-height auditorium. The upper volume, which cuts through a range of workspaces, is topped by a channel glass oculus and an extensive rooftop terrace. The Kapors were sold: "I wanted to create some verticality... connections between the floors, but also visual connections that you remember," Fougeron said. "Almost a mnemonic device. You would always feel, while you were in the building, that you had an understanding of what the floors were like and what people were doing there." In addition to creating an open and democratic environment, the volumes could impress visitors and host the diverse social functions that come with the business and nonprofit world. "Freada wanted this integrated building, one that had a fair amount of pizzazz," added Fougeron. "She wanted something people would walk into and go 'wow.'" The 45,000-square-foot project's biggest challenge was the existing structure, which had been repeatedly remodeled over the years. But demolishing it wasn't an option: "For [the Kapors], reusing the building is about this respect of place in Oakland." Reusing 75% of the existing building also helped the project attain LEED Gold certification. Other sustainable features included bicycle parking, low flow fixtures, natural ventilation strategies, and recycled materials such as glass tile, redwood, and carpet tile. The newly-added fourth floor, in addition to its green roof, drought-tolerant plants, and heat-reducing wood decking (all other LEED pluses), features the oculus itself, which glows at night. The illuminated capstone not only distinguishes the Center but simultaneously symbolizes its "role to grow outward and upward within the community," as the firm wrote in a press release.