THE OCEAN PLANT
MKThink creates intelligent places for others. Seeking solutions when we are the client was educational and painful but appears promising.
The Problem to Solve
In 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, MKThink had to decide – and own – a new direction for our immediate and future workplace after a 20-year term in a conventional San Francisco business district setting.
We realize this decision was by external context, an edge condition; Covid was a constant, our base city of San Francisco was in distress, work-from-home was a mandate, and our lease was up after 15 years.
This decision also had internal potential – and pressure from the internal context: MKThink’s vision, mission, and experience have always pushed our practice to the leading line of explorations of cultural, environmental, architectural, technical, and business norms.
The problem we needed to solve had three essential parts:
Confirm that we would indeed be who we envisioned the company to be.
Apply our preaching by committing and living a physical-place solution aligned with our values, aspirations, and client work.
Program the place to engage our local and global community networks with activities that explore possibilities to apply to their future decisions.
To get there, we dove into the cobbler’s-own-shoes dilemma, struggling through the self-determination process of discovery and assessment to develop a strategy and choose a solution, design and test our assumptions, and then own and implement a decision that would define the next decade of our practice.
We ended up at the edge.
Intelligent Edge Placemaking
Our new home is at a physical edge. From here, we strive to create better places through creating, using, and programming a physical place where urban meets rural, land meets the sea, digital meets analog, scarce resources meet high demand, and old meets new – revealing unforgiving criteria to make sustainable places.
Our new home is the Ocean Plant.
We are located at 800 Great Highway on the Westernmost edge of San Francisco, situated amongst Ocean Beach, Golden Gate Park, Lands End, and the Outer Richmond neighborhood. The furthest point from City Hall in San Francisco, but a center stage of human culture, the natural environment, and San Francisco urbanism. See location here.
First, we needed to decide IF we wanted a physical location. We earnestly believe in Build Less, Solve More. We believe - and this has been consistently revealed through brutally honest proof from 20 years of client space use - that there is sufficient built stuff. Effective locations are those that use what we have better and shift the saved resources to discover creative solutions that are sustainable, valuable, affordable, and enduring.
While dramatic, the Build Less Solve More position is easy for us. What was more difficult was confirming IF MKThink should have any physical place.
We decided yes.
MKThink leadership defied (external and internal) convention and decided that we wanted a workplace that we could define and activate by intentional, regularly recurring, and relatively dense team occupancy.
With conviction and intention, we set about determining the why/how/where/who of the physical. Specifically, to achieve an artful, practical, and joyous manifestation of practice at the Edge. Opposite weight to the digital realities, isolating work strategies, and increasingly changing contextual dynamics.
MKThink believes that the role of shared places is increasingly important in an increasingly digital world. Shared places offer the opportunity to experience and build culture, engage the senses, and provide alternatives to a stay-at-home world. Our role is creating, programming, and engaging people by making these better places.
The why was the key to the how. Our how is through the decision leadership to find a physical space in an edge location that could be more than an office space. We needed to host a place that engaged our teammates, clients, guests, and local and global communities.
We found a unique yet appropriate solution directly on Ocean Beach in the Outer Richmond District of San Francisco. 800 Great Highway is a vertically organized building attached to a multi-family residential development that formerly housed a surf shop. Though the space sat vacant for 2+ years, it brought us to identify and embrace our WHY, to set aside conventional wisdom and advice, and to locate where we believe we can advance a relevant, future-forward practice.
The market context determined we would be tenants, but our who meant something more. We set up a leasing and operating arrangement for the MKThink team to be in partnership with the building owner, as well as establishing formal and informal collaborations with our neighbors and the (multiple) regional regulatory agencies so that we can lead the making and operations of an exceptional multi-use environment of purpose and physical activity.
That is the first part of the who, the getting the governors on board. But to create a space that "walked the talk," we need to go beyond a good story and expand the who to include a community of engaged participants to explore and celebrate the benefits of physical places in a modern world.
Our who needed to be other companies, local and beyond. Who cared about the balance among people, buildings, and the natural world and expressed that caring through defined positive futures through placemaking?
The team came back to work from COVID to the new Ocean Plant. Our folks choose to be together from 3-5 days per week. Our effectiveness is back. And while our client community takes a little while to decide if they are up for the journey to the coast, a longer trip to find us at Cabrillo and the Great Highway, the surprised joy we experience from them is worth it. Now we have neighbors who walk in and say hello, an emerging partnership with a coffee shop, local artisans, and clean technologists to share our beach-level showroom. I'd say so-far, so good.