After the coronavirus pandemic changed the nature of office work likely forever, some business owners rushed to move out of spaces that were now too big for a staff that was partly or largely remote.
Not Studio One Eleven’s Alan Pullman. The founder of the full-service architecture and design firm instead got together with colleagues to figure out how they could use the extra space in the cavernous former department store that is their home in Downtown Long Beach.
The result of their brainstorm was Long Beach Urban Lab, a collaborative and social space that can host nonprofits and small businesses, discussions and lectures and more.
The 25,000-square-foot building’s high ceilings and open floor plan feel spacious, and it also holds several smaller conference rooms, offices and collaborative spaces.
“We hate to see it vacant—we knew we could make something out of it,” Pullman said.
The office can accommodate about 125 people, but while some come in daily (including Pullman), others work Downtown two or three days a week, and others only show up when necessary, so even on the busiest days, the building is only about 60% to 70% full, Pullman said.
Studio One Eleven already shares its offices with RDC, another planning and design firm, and it’s in the process of shifting its workers around to make room for Urban Lab ventures. Coming in April are a pop-up retail shop by Muse Apothecary and artist-in-residence Mario Ybarra Jr.
Ybarra, who creates everything from drawings to large installations, said he hopes to be a sounding board, someone architects and designers can come to when they’re working out a problem, but he also wants to stay open to learning from them.
The idea of the residency came at exactly the right time for Ybarra—his Wilmington studio was flooded twice in six months by broken water mains. He’d recently been asked to be part of a future exhibition at the Long Beach Museum of Art, so it seemed like all signs were pointing to the city, Ybarra said.
His approach to the residency—which will include “office hours,” artist talks and Ybarra just contemplating, planning and executing art projects—is based on “how can I be a muse, that kind of energy, bring in ideas and really be a listener too,” he said.
Pullman said bringing in a working artist is of a piece with his larger effort to reimagine Studio One Eleven’s office space and make it an engaging, active place people want to be in.
“What artists bring is a different way of looking at the physical world and the metaphysical world,” he said.
“We’re really always trying to think differently about how we can create an environment that is a better place for people and speaks to people and connects with people.”