By Fank Talamantez June 5, 2015

THE MISSION: A renovated lobby that, while modern, still preserves the rich legacy of the neighborhood, welcoming community members to our University and adding vibrancy to a long-neglected part of Mission Street-one of the oldest thoroughfares in San Francisco.

The physical transformation of CIIS's first floor is nearly complete. It was a year in the making, and CIIS unveiled its new face in mid-March. Large windows, a new entry canopy, and an aesthetically exciting interior entice visitors to come inside.

What was once a small, dark lobby has become a modern storefront that welcomes students, faculty, staff, and visitors. Stepping into a spacious lobby, they are now greeted by a curved reception desk wrapped in the University's symbol, the Sri Yantra. A visually stunning ceiling consisting of colorful fabric-covered acoustic tiles draws the eye upward; the polished concrete floor reflects the bold colors of the café seating.

In early March, we launched the first-floor art gallery with the exhibition opening of two Bay Area-based artists, Jaime Cortez and Truong Tran. The gallery quickly filled with a celebratory crowd of
roughly 300-many new to CIIS-who engaged deeply with the artists in a conversation facilitated by The Arts at CIIS curator Deirdre Visser.

Among the comments overheard: "Wow, it's like a museum space, but with a better vibe," and "CIIS has really hit its stride." Many more plans are under way at 1453 Mission Street for multidisciplinary exhibitions and public programming, such as lectures, receptions, performances, and readings.

The former Gantner-Mattern building, built in 1912, was originally home to a knitting mill and swimsuit factory, which saw a dynamic period of labor organizing in the late 1930s as the union movement came into its own on the West Coast. The activist and community-driven spirit of union organizing is still alive and well within these walls, and the new space was designed to enable many more conversations-some inspired by those begun early in the last century.


The building, which CIIS moved into in 1999 and then bought eight years later, presented numerous structural challenges during our construction phase that tested the experience and resolve of
the engineers and project team. Antiquated cast iron plumbing, hidden concrete beams not part of the original construction, century-old ceiling plaster, and multilayered wood flooring not seen since the days of the Titanic were among the issues we encountered-and, thanks to the team's ingenuity, resolved.

In the design phase, great care was taken by architects and former Director of Facilities and Operations Jonathan Mills (EWP '09) to incorporate many of the core values of the University-among them community, sustainability, and diversity.

In July 2014 the renovation commenced with the first pouring of concrete. Steel framing for what would eventually become the art gallery, the bookstore, and the restroom area was erected soon after. "All of the renovations have been designed with environmental sustainability in mind, including low-water-use plumbing fixtures; natural and reclaimed materials, such as the wood paneling and polished concrete floors; and energy-efficient lighting and power design," says architect Cheryl Lentini.

The pendant light fixtures provide a warm, inviting glow that beckons our community--both neighbors and passersby--to stop in and stay awhile. With the expansive northwest-facing 17-foot-high windows that line Mission Street, abundant sunlight will bathe the lobby, leading to a significant reduction in both energy consumption and utility costs. The lighting system utilizes dimming sensors responsive to ambient sunlight, reducing lighting levels up to 63% throughout the day.

The new lobby preserves much of the original building's look and feel: Instead of a drop ceiling, the 19-foot-high ceiling was maintained to provide an open, airy feeling and to expose the concrete
skeleton supporting the polished concrete floors. The electrical, plumbing, and mechanical infrastructure remains exposed throughout the space. Much of the original conduit is still in use and can be seen running perpendicular to the columns.

A living wall planned for the elevator vestibule will make visible CIIS's deep relationship with nature. And, plans for an expanded iteration of the Consciousness Café, originally to be part of the first floor, are under way for the third floor.

We also designed multiple heating and cooling zones throughout the space to create microclimates for offices, open space, and the restroom area, which optimizes equipment efficiency, reduces
energy usage, and minimizes the University's carbon footprint.

Earthy reclaimed wood, sourced from a Sonoma barn, lines the two walls behind the reception desk.


The University is grateful to trustee Helen Desai and former CIIS trustee Rajnikant Desai for their $125,000 contribution to the First Floor Art Gallery. We are also grateful to CIIS alum Robert Matta (ICP '01, EWP '04) for matching the Desais with his gift of $125,000.

Asked why she wished to contribute to the gallery, Helen Desai says, "I have loved art since I was a child, studying it in college, and I believe that having the opportunity to contemplate it keepsone elevated. Raj and I were good friends of the Chaudhuris, and it is an honor to support a project like the First Floor Art Gallery because we are happy to see all the many ways CIIS continues to grow." The Desais were the 2006 recipients of the Haridas and Bina Chaudhuri Award for Distinguished Service.

Visitors to the gallery will be treated to an ever-changing palette of emerging and established artist exhibits; and visual display units will stream videos of lectures, poetry readings, and upcoming events. For the community, it will be an ideal introduction to CIIS and the breadth of amazing things on offer here.

"The expansive architecture of this space really allows us to bring to CIIS the fullness of what's being made in contemporary art; possibilities abound to deepen the discourse within and between
communities, and enrich the educational experience of our students," says Visser.


In the past year, CIIS has raised nearly $500,000 for the First Floor Renovation Project—toward a total fundraising goal of $1 million. In December, we held a Hard Hat Tour and reception that invited prospective donors to contribute to the project. Throughout the spring, the Development office has been scheduling visits with alumni and friends who may wish to make their own gift for the first floor.

Dorotea Reyna, Vice President of Development, calls the renovation a game-changer. “Down the road, through our merger with ACTCM, we will also be able to offer ear acupuncture clinic hours on the first floor to the general public,” she says. “We are delighted that CIIS will finally have a beautiful and creative space of first contact with new friends.” The grand opening, replete with a series of dynamic programming and events, is slated for the fall.


The multigender restroom, with seven private stalls, is designed to closely adhere to another core value at CIIS: celebrating and promoting the diversity within the community. Retro-style

ceramic tile with warm colors accents the walls, and hexagonal floor tiles hark back to the early days of the swimsuit factory.

In addition to the lobby remodel, two rental spaces were renovated for our new tenants, Technical Credit Union and Sunverge Energy, a manufacturer of solar power storage units, which recently inked a five-year lease to occupy 8,000 square feet of office space facing Minna Street.

Much was done to preserve the original architecture of 1453 Mission Street, paying homage to the roots of this great city and street. The addition of bold, bright colors and high-tech elements embraces many of those same characteristics of our Mid-Market neighborhood-and point the way to a promising future.

This is truly an exciting time, not only for CIIS, but for the surrounding community as well.

CIIS Administration, Arts at CIIS News, Visitors

Related News

Stay Connected to CIIS