VPA designers collaborate on inspirational workspace for Student Sandbox
When the Student Sandbox unveiled its renovated space at Syracuse’s Technology Garden this past summer, the student start-up companies that make their home there discovered how valuable and inspirational a well-designed working environment can be.
“It’s a really cool space,” says Colby Morgan ’10, G’11 of Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies (iSchool) and founder of Safe Sip, a student company working on developing a straw that could detect date rape drugs in alcoholic beverages. “It brings a lot of creative energy, and we want to come to the office.”
The Sandbox is part of the Syracuse Student Start-Up Accelerator, a collaborative project led by the University and the Syracuse Technology Garden that provides the environment and resources necessary to launch new companies through a series of courses, the Sandbox incubator space and Orange Tree Funding. The incubator space officially opened in June after extensive renovations, which totaled $125,000 and were funded by a grant secured by New York State Assemblyman Al Stirpe.
The renovated space is the result of a design process that began in 2009 under the leadership of Chris McCray, “mad scientist” of COLAB, the collaboration laboratory in SU’s College of Visual and Performing Arts (VPA), and concluded with final designs by Ruth Westervelt, an assistant professor of interior design in VPA’s Department of Design.
“The goal was to create an atmosphere that would resonate with millennials—a space that they would want to spend time in,” says McCray. “It was important that this be a space that did not feel like work or school to them, that didn’t feel too corporate or academic. The idea was to be playful but maintain professionalism, promote collaboration across teams and at the same time allow for a degree of privacy.”
For the first phase of the design process, McCray enlisted the talents of junior interior design students in the fall 2009 course “Interior Design: Office Planning,” taught by part-time instructor Zoriana Dunham, to create designs that could be presented to John Liddy, SU entrepreneur-in-residence, and Paul Brooks, then-executive director of the Syracuse Technology Garden. Liddy and Brooks selected a winning design team, Nicole Lamison and Maureen Baker, who received a $250 cash prize.
Because Liddy and Brooks liked several elements from the different designs presented by the students, McCray reached out to Westervelt to create one cohesive plan, including concept development, perspective drawings, elevations and details for construction. Westervelt completed the designs during SU’s spring break in March, while juggling her regular academic work.
“The students’ projects gave the people at the Sandbox something to react to and helped me understand better what they were looking for,” says Westervelt. “The concept for this Generation Y office environment is a marriage between the raw edge of urbanism and the honed edge of tech.”
McCray and Westervelt also worked closely with the contractors, Irish Miller Construction, and were involved in the build-out of the new workstations, task chairs, conference furniture, work tables and lounge furniture. The start-up social gaming website GraFighters donated a ping-pong table, and the students are eagerly awaiting the installation of a Wii room.
“The new generation of worker likes to have a variety of work scenarios available to them,” says Westervelt. “In addition to having a conventional workspace, the space also affords alcoves for alone time, as well as a community ‘chill’ space that allows for a variety of seating configurations.”
“It’s really great and conducive to doing work, but gives you an opportunity to take a break if you need,” says Alex Piliouras ‘10 from the humor website CuseMyCampus.com and T-shirt design company Squeeze My Tees.
“It was money well spent,” says Liddy, who also serves as the advisor to the students. “The renovations transformed an empty room into a collaborative workspace environment ideal for the creative entrepreneurs working there every day.”