Technology Access Foundation approached us to design a structure reflecting its values in the community it serves. Persevering over a seven year recession-stalled design and construction process led to this inspiring administrative and learning environment for one of Washington’s most successful Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) education programs serving students of color.
Bethaday Learning Center is located in an under-utilized park with magnificent mature trees on land made available through a unique lease arrangement with the King County Parks Department. Our design minimized disruption to the park – no trees were removed – to maximize the connection to the natural landscape and filter light which saturates the office spaces. The heart of the design is an entry bridge functioning as a powerful metaphor for students leaving the everyday world behind to find respite in a ‘treehouse’ where they can work toward a successful future. A primary design catalyst was the client’s desire to incorporate recycled materials. Public Architecture of San Francisco assisted with ideas and procurement of secondhand materials, along with community contributions: a donated paneling became the mosaic skin of the central stair; TAF students painted tile used as colorful accents; old wooden beams from an adjacent housing development were transformed into the entry bridge.
This mixed-use facility is mission-central for TAF and has been embraced by its economically-challenged neighborhood. Students from nearby schools walk to STEM learning, the community has gained gathering space for events – including weddings – and the park is safer due to increased activity. It also exemplifies the valuable community assets possible from creative public/private partnerships to further equity and social justice goals.