Makerspace as Workplace: A New Typology for the Digital Age

A recent Metropolis Think Tank featured experts’ views on San Francisco’s urban manufacturing renaissance.

Pier70 22nd Street Credit Brookfield Properties
Pier 70 in San Francisco combines makerspaces, retail, and traditional office spaces. Courtesy Brookfield Properties

A neighborhood called Dogpatch might seem like an unlikely place for a revolution in building typology. But this harborside San Francisco district is ground zero for exploring Production, Distribution and Repair buildings (PDRs), a special zoning designation for facilities aimed at preserving space for light manufacturing.

As part of Metropolis’s Think Tank series, four experts in PDRs gathered on August 13 for a lively webinar on the characteristics and potential of this building type, moderated by editor in chief, Avinash Rajagopal.

“Building 12 is a 150,000 square-foot building in the overall 28-acre Pier 70 site located in San Francisco’s Dogpatch neighborhood,” said Tim Bacon, senior director of development at Brookfield Properties. Dogpatch, he explained, was historically an industrial and manufacturing center near the city’s waterfront. What makes Building 12 different from the plethora of industrial live/work rehabs is that it will contain space dedicated to light manufacturing.

“Urban resilience is very much about having small, local manufacturing,” said Peter Pfau, whose firm, Pfau Long Architecture, originally designed the Building 12 renovation, which has continued to evolve since 2019 when Pfau Long merged with Perkins and Will and Pfau became design director for the firm’s San Francisco office.

Kate Sofis, founder and CEO of SFMade, a real estate and consulting company that promotes Bay Area manufacturing, stated that PDR is an idea with wide-reaching influence and ramifications. “PDR is a name and a typology that was invented here in San Francisco,” she explained. “Opinions about light manufacturing in the city vary widely. Some people say, ‘The city is done with manufacturing.’ Others on the opposite spectrum state, ‘Just leave it alone and it will come back on its own.’ Neither works. The PDR has an extremely important role in bringing back manufacturing.”

A lot is at stake, Sofis said. While small manufacturers in San Francisco typically have only about nine employees, the majority of those jobs are held by women and people of color. But she sees these small enterprises growing and co-existing with larger entities like the mammoth Tesla car plant in the South Bay region. She explained that while many electronic components for bigger companies such as Tesla are made in regional PDRs, currently the most booming products in these makerspaces are food and beverages.

Ryan Spurlock, founder and executive director of Humanmade, which operates San Francisco’s most advanced manufacturing training center, believes the future of urban manufacturing and PDRs looks bright.

“We’re at a time when people are reevaluating what they want to do. I’m hopeful that the pandemic will cause a lot of people to go into small manufacturing. We’re happy to provide space and support to entrepreneurs,” he told the panel.

The Think Tank discussions were held on August 6, 13, and 20. The conversations were presented in partnership with Design TV by SANDOW, B+N Industries, GROHE, KI, Material Bank, and Versteel.

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