A New STEM Lab Serves Underprivileged Youth

A partnership with Google, the free computer science space invites Oakland, California, high schoolers to explore coding, robotics, and welding.

Only 30 percent of Black and Latinx high school students nationwide gain college admission, and within that group, less than 20 percent are in STEM programs, according to Pew Research Center. Code Next is working to change that in Oakland, California. 

Atlanta-based architect Danish Kurani partnered with Google to create Code Next Oakland, a free computer science lab space where underserved 8th through 12th graders can explore coding, robotics, and welding in inviting workshops. With its convenient location in a refurbished storefront next to the Fruitvale BART metro station and an Oakland Public Library branch, Code Next is an easily accessible 3,000-square-foot adaptive reuse lab. 

Opened in 2022, the education center has flexible walls and large interior windows that allow students and instructors to move and see between the makerspace, design studio, coding room, and communal areas. Embedded systems—like lighting tuned for circadian rhythms and continuous air purifiers to support cognitive function—create a healthy learning environment.

“Architecture is a tool for creating change.”

A Design that Empowers Students to Explore

Code Next fosters a sense of belonging with a “permission-less” approach to equipment and tools with open shelving and storage. Kurani describes the lab as a “third space” away from home and school where students can feel comfortable and in control. With ownership of their environment, they can find inspiration in both tech and creation and grow in confidence through divergent thinking that isn’t always accepted in a traditional academic model that favors “one right answer.”

Code Next interior space

By laying bare the structure, construction techniques, and materials, the design also promotes a “maker mindset.” Small graphics are etched in discrete locations to explain how different sustainable materials and finishes are created, embedding a sense of discovery in the space. For example, the graphics teach students about carpets made from recycled fishing nets, floors and ceiling tiles that are industrial-looking but plant-based, and countertops made from recycled cardboard and aluminum scrap. 

Kurani’s design stems from not only a belief in students’ ability to understand their environment but also a conviction that “architecture is a tool for creating change.” This is evident in the 92 percent of Code Next graduates who pursue higher education, 88 percent of whom go on to undertake STEM majors. 

Student working in lab space
Student project built robot
Code Next interior space

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