Grounded in Community: CIIS Renovations in Step With Changing LandscapePosted on Jul 17 2014

By Lisa Denenmark

Grounded in Community

Transformation is a big term used at 1453 Mission Street. Heard in the hallways and in the classroom, it's part of the formal name of an MA and PhD program, a school, and countless panels, conferences, courses, and dissertation titles. At CIIS, transformations have mostly been of the nonmaterial, psychospiritual, social justice kinds-not anything you could run your fingers through, or sit on.

But now, 46-year-old CIIS finds itself barely a street below one of the city's most important transit corridors-a place of unprecedented growth in high-tech jobs and new housing. The
University, keeping pace, is ready to roll out its blueprint for the future.

"CIIS wishes to serve our evolving neighborhood by contributing to creating and sustaining a healthy, vibrant, and diverse community," says President Joseph L. Subbiondo. "We welcome the new organizations, both profit and nonprofit; and we will collaborate with them in meeting our responsibilities and commitments to community engagement. We plan to convene the conversation at CIIS. "

Mid-Market and Middle Age

Since 1999, CIIS's street presence has been cosmetically and nondescriptly languishing at 1453 Mission Street, where one could, and often would, as the song goes, "just walk on by."

"It's so easy to miss us," says Keith Cich, Board Chair and Treasurer. "It's like we're the best-kept secret on Mission Street. When we bought the building in 2007, there was little interaction with the neighborhood," he says. "Now the world has changed around us. We want to open up CIIS to the neighborhood and introduce it as a place with a lot to offer."

The renovation is part of the vision for CIIS 2020, with the aim to renovate the entire building so that it reflects the University's maturity and relevance as a forward-thinking place of innovation.

Reenvisioning 1453 Mission Street

With the launch of the new Laurance S. Rockefeller Library in 2012, a project that raised more than $750,000 in gifts, the University embarked on a full-court transformational press to realize its next capital project: the renovation of the building's first floor.

Architects Cheryl Lentini and Helen Bronstein, in collaboration with CIIS board members, and the Facilities and Operations department, have designed the space so that the visitor's experience-or a passerby's first impression-of CIIS is one of invitation, interaction, and engagement.

Over the next three years, CIIS is taking a two-phased approach to the remodeling. In Phase 1, the first-floor lobby entrance will be redesigned and enlarged to seven times its current size, adding 2,000 square feet. A bustling café will be created, along with rental space for two tenants.
Cost: $1.5 million

Kindle, Nook, Innerlight

The new café, which will have a fully functional kitchen, will be another source of revenue for the University and a community gathering space. And just steps away, further augmenting the first-floor experience and likely attracting tablet-toting customers, is CIIS's InnerLight Bookstore. There, browsers and book buyers will be able to listen to readings by University faculty and students.

Deirdre Visser, curator of The Arts at CIIS, is also working closely with the remodeling team to integrate a contemporary gallery space into the lobby area that will showcase artists' work and be a home for poetry slams and readings.

"Speaking for both The Arts at CIIS and our growing MFA program, we are thrilled to have street-level visibility for our programming," says Visser. "It allows us to both heighten public exposure for the emerging and diverse artists we work with and invite a broad public into the school to engage with the CIIS community in dialogue about ideas and issues that challenge and sometimes divide us."

To the right of the visitor lobby will be a secure entrance for students, staff, and faculty, enhanced by a "living wall" of natural plants behind it that will create a ground-floor oasis for CIIS community members.

New kiosks will hold book displays and showcase the University's promotional and informational material. A multigendered bathroom will also be added.

"The architectural design provides another point of intersection by revealing the building's historical armature and high ceilings while carrying its history forward with a modern storefront that connects the building's design with its more modern neighbors," says Jonathan Mills (EWP '09), Director of Facilities and Operations.

"The new storefront with windows that stretch to 17 feet from the floor will give the first floor an airy and expansive feeling, which in combination with wall treatments made from locally sourced reclaimed wood and a vertical garden feature will also express CIIS's commitment to sustainability," he says. Phase 2 converts the sixth floor into a multiuse Community Space. This complements the venerated Namaste Hall as a venue for the more intimate events such as lectures, symposia, yoga, parties, and fundraisers. The new space, approximately 4,000 square feet, will be available to all departments and student groups-and can serve as a space for town hall meetings.
Cost: $650,000

Grounded in Community

A Penthouse Jewel Box

The penthouse floor was originally designed as a sunroom and lunch space for the Gantner-Mattern Co. knitting mill almost 100 years ago. It's one-quarter the size of the other floors.
"The new space represents a return to the original design intent of the floor and an opportunity to have a space that is representative of the openness and intimacy of our community," says Mills.

"The sunlit windows, two Zen rooftop decks, and very few walls will ensure that breadth and intimacy," he says.

This adaptive and dynamic Community Space, and a culturally and materially rich ground-floor entry, are bookends on an emergent CIIS. In its 46 years, the University has been housed at different sites across San Francisco; the three-phase transformation of 1453 Mission Street marks a commitment to this site.

Fortifying existing community outreach and engagement efforts, the street-level transformation establishes CIIS as a significant partner in the city's most important dialogues well into the future.

Plans are in place for construction to begin in July. "The timing couldn't be better," says Cich.

Building Momentum

In the last two years, according to the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, roughly 18 new companies have moved within a three-block radius of CIIS. Twitter, the most prominent, signed a lease that runs through 2021.

"We've tailored part of our community outreach toward engaging the youthful, high-tech demographic," says Julie Pofsky, Associate Director of Development. "We want them to understand CIIS as their neighborhood place for intellectual and spiritual growth-as a place that can also help individuals and companies reduce stress and burnout," she says.

Under way are new courses and workshops, and concomitantly, solicitations for support on projects such as our recent mental health-themed hackathons.

Says Pofsky, "Perhaps they'll come in for a great cup of coffee and come out with a degree."

Lisa Denenmark

Lisa Denenmark is the Associate Director of Communications at CIIS.



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