EMBARC COMMUNITY BUILD
True to UC Berkeley’s public mission, embARC includes an overall theme of civic responsibility by partnering with a local community organization to design a community improvement project. Through this partnership, students employ the tools they learn in the design studios, digital and fabrication workshops, and lectures to make an impact on authentic community issues. Past Community Build projects have tackled student basic needs, food insecurity, urban agriculture and urban ecology by taking on local non-profits as clients and fabricating essential infrastructure for communities that do not otherwise have access to design and build services.
2022 COMMUNITY CLIENT: SALVATION ARMY
In the summer of 2022, embARC Community Build partnered with the Salvation Army in Alameda County and Rebuilding Together Oakland (RTO) in the redesign of the Emergency Family Shelter’s playground in the Fruitvale Neighborhood of Oakland, Berkeley’s neighbor city to the South. The students painted and installed wooden decoration fence panels, mulched the existing play structure, and painted, assembled, and installed prefabricated wooden benches and storage throughout the play area.
RTO works to strengthen the lives of the most vulnerable communities by providing seniors, people with disabilities, and other low-income homeowners with critical repairs, accessibility modifications, and energy-efficient upgrades. They brought their building experience to the project, as well as their strong connections with the Salvation Army in Alameda County. The Salvation Army is an organization that works in 130 countries around the world, and assists 25 million Americans per year in the provision of both the physical and spiritual needs of people, without discrimination.
In 2019, embARC Community Build partnered with Rebuilding Together and Operation Dignity at Dignity Commons in Alameda, California. Students worked with the Oakland branch of Rebuilding Together (RTO), an organization that works to strengthen the lives of our most vulnerable communities by providing seniors, people with disabilities, and other low-income homeowners with critical repairs, accessibility modifications, and energy-efficient upgrades.
With RTO providing broader socio-economic context for the Bay Area’s homelessness and affordable housing crisis, the team designed interventions for Operation Dignity, a non-profit that houses and serves the most vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Alameda County, including veterans and people living in encampments.
The students painted, assembled, and installed planters with integrated seating in the open courtyard, and rehabilitated the mailbox pavilion as a community outdoor hub for the residents to gather around and enjoy.
In 2018, the embARC Community Build once again partnered with the UC Berkeley Food Pantry. embARC students designed and built a modular shelving system with the capability to be moved and adapted with the UC Berkeley Food Pantry as it grows into different locations and configurations.
The design included food safe finishes, as well as shelves and a desk made of structural materials — plywood and metal — for strength and durability.
The core of the design objective was to increase the capacity, efficiency, and visibility of the Food Pantry space by making key improvements to the infrastructure and changes to its spatial organization. Through this process, embARC students were able to learn about the designer-client relationship. Further, the students gained marketable design and fabrication skills, while learning more about the broader context of the Food Pantry and Basic Needs Security’s mission.
In 2017, the embARC Community Build partnered with the UC Berkeley Food Pantry, an organization that offers “a direct response to the need among the student population to juggle the costs of living with the costs of obtaining a university degree.”
embARC students built a series of mobile carts and trailers designed to ease the friction in distribution of food from UC Berkeley’s farm and garden spaces to the Food Pantry, increase the visibility and accessibility of the Food Pantry on campus, and empower food insecure students to put together delicious and nutrient-rich meals from the Food Pantry’s offerings.
Community Build students gained insight into the designer-client relationship through an examination of the design research process, and experienced hands-on engagement with the fabrication component of the Community Build, including metalworking, woodworking, and digital fabrication.
Community Build ran in tandem with the Sustainable City Planning Workshop, which investigated the context for campus food insecurity, identified hubs and outliers in the campus food system chain, and sought to understand the larger food justice movement that is taking hold in urban areas across the country.
The embARC program is extremely grateful to the UC Berkeley Basic Needs Committee for its generous grant for materials and to Mike’s Bikes for a crucial in-kind donation that will increase the effectiveness of this project exponentially.
The 2016 embARC Summer Design Academy partnered with the renowned Urban Tilth, drawing inspiration and feedback from Bienvenida Meza, Luis Chavez, Doria Robinson, and UT Summer Apprentices. Urban Tilth is a non-profit organization based in Richmond that promotes equal access to healthy food. In their words: “We farm, feed, forage, teach, train, build community, employ, and give back.”
The Community Build project — overseen by CED Fabrication Shop Mechanicians Tonia Sing Chi and Elizabeth Thorp — donated a storage shelter and rainwater catchment system to the Verde Elementary School Partnership Garden, a hub of the North Richmond community upon which a range of local residents depend for fresh food. The structures incorporated sustainable materials in a contemporary form, giving embARC students a real-world example of the necessity of environmental responsibility in all aspects of the design and fabrication process.
Each year, embARC’s Community Build project is linked to the Sustainable City Planning Workshop and the Architecture & Design studio with the aim of presenting the study and practice of environmental design as an interwoven, interdependent, and interdisciplinary field.
For more information, visit Urban Tilth’s website.
SPECIAL THANKS: We would like to extend our appreciation to John Voekel, Principal Engineer at Framework Engineering, for generously donating his time and energy to ensuring the structural integrity of the Community Build project.
In 2015, embARC took on the Golden Gate chapter of the Audubon Society, located on San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley, as their community partner and Community Build client. In consultation with Anthony DeCicco, the Golden Gate Audubon Society’s youth education director, and UC Berkeley Fabrication Shop staff Semar Prom, Elizabeth Thorp, and Paul Mirocha, embARC students produced a number of designs that met the needs of local endangered bird populations.
Three of the boxes were permanently installed in Blake Garden, the College of Environmental Design’s “landscape laboratory” in the hills of Kensington, under the watchful eye of Garden Manager Laurie Twitchell. The rest of the boxes fabricated by the students were donated to the Golden Gate Audubon Society and the Raptor Observatory, located near Hawk Hill in Marin County.
According to their mission statement, “The Golden Gate Audubon Society engages people to experience the wonder of birds, and translate that wonder into action in order to protect native bird populations and their habitats.” The embARC team would like to thank GGAS for being such engaged, inspiring partners.
In 2014, embARC partnered with Spiral Gardens, a non-profit food security project, to design and build a chicken coop for the local Berkeley community.
The mission of Spiral Gardens is to “create healthy sustainable communities by promoting a strong local food system and encouraging productive use of urban soil.” Students designed housing complexes and built models of their ideas in CED’s fabrication shop and digital fabrication lab, both in Wurster Hall. Students were led by CED instructor Matt Wolpe. Matt runs his own Design-Build company and has co-authored a book on designing chicken coops. With the embARC students’ contribution, a small clutch of hens (plus a few ducks and turkey chicks) are now nesting comfortably in a new redwood four-plex in southwest Berkeley.