Located in the heart of Oakland, California, Code Next is an after-school STEM lab for teens. Designed by architect Danish Kurani, the space features the adaptive reuse of an abandoned retail storefront. The project was formed in partnership with Google and seeks to empower underprivileged high school students to explore and innovate within the STEM realm. This is achieved by offering after-school and summer classes while serving as a hub where teens can relax, grab a snack and hang out with friends.
The first Code Next lab in Oakland served over 2500 between the years 2016 to 2022. In fact, demand at the first facility was so high, that Google and Kurani partnered to create a new, more expansive facility in the same complex. This new space accommodates for the program’s increased growth in the last few years.
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The project’s location also opens up opportunities for Hispanic, Black and Native American students. The lab is situated next to the Oakland Public Library and is a one-minute walk from the closest BART metro station. Additionally, the space serves as a model for supporting underprivileged teens to thrive in STEM fields. The lab provides students with the resources and freedom to explore their interests. This consequently encourages the students and ignites in them a passion for STEM, which in turn empowers them for their futures.
The STEM lab features a coding room, design studio and makerspace. Within these spaces, students have access to various tools, such as 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC machines and robots, giving them the opportunity to be creative and explore fields that capture their interest.
Code Next’s spatial design is also curated to engage students and spark curiosity. It creates a relaxed environment that does not feel intimidating or overwhelming. Additionally, the space features nooks and hangout spaces which encourage downtime and harness a sense of community.
The interior design captures an industrial aesthetic. This is especially because of the open display of tools and unpretentious design finishes, like exposed ceilings. This is reminiscent of a workshop space to further encourage hands-on work and collaboration.
Besides using the adaptive reuse strategy for the overall STEM space, Kurani meticulously designed Code Next to have minimal environmental impact. This is done through select fixtures and furnishings.
For example, the use of tiling and surface finishes. Code Next’s ceiling tiles are plant-based and made from recycled material. Similarly, though the floors resemble concrete, they are actually made from plant-based sources. These include flaxseed oil and pine tree gum, which make them long-lasting and easy to clean. Meanwhile, countertops are made from recycled cardboard boxes and aluminum scraps, lessening the energy and resources used to manufacture new products. Another fascinating feature is the carpets made from recycled fishing nets. These are also produced using energy from renewable resources. To spark conversations about the sustainability of the furniture and finishings used, the products feature graphic etchings which highlight their eco-friendly production strategies.
As a part of sustainability, the lab’s spatial design also considers wellness. Since asthma is a key cause of student absenteeism across the U.S., the lab incorporates a MERV 15 filter to capture 90% of airborne particles, thus boosting overall health and well-being. Additionally, light fixtures have been carefully selected to boost focus and learning.
Moreover, to limit costs and save emissions and resources related to furniture production, many of the chairs in the Code Next lab are being reused from other spaces. Though many of them had been in use for several years, they are still in good condition and are being repurposed for the lab.
Overall, this new Code Next lab in Oakland has made a significant impact on POC youth. Up to 88% of Code Next graduates major in STEM subjects at university, compared to the U.S.’s current average of 19% for Latinx and Black students. This is because the students are provided with support and are confident in their abilities. Many Code Next students have also earned scholarships to attend highly-ranked universities, worked with exceptional companies and even launched five-figure businesses in high school.
Besides the hard data, student feedback has also been positive. This is because the space is designed to be conducive for learning, creativity and collaboration. In fact, the majority of students feel more creative, confident and innovative at Code Next compared to their high school. The space excites them about STEM and even makes them feel like inventors.
The Code Next lab in Oakland is a model for supporting underprivileged youth with the skills and resources to tap into the world of STEM. By creating a comfortable, supportive environment for students to learn and explore science and technology, they are empowered to pursue STEM-related careers than others in similar demographics. This in turn can boost their skills, confidence and even their socioeconomic status in the long run.
Images via Danish Kurani and Jim Stephenson