COMMONS Oakland is a vision of renowned artist, Binta Ayofemi. As someone who sees her business ventures as an extension of her art and performance, Binta called upon BBA to reimagine a Broadway building into a new event space that operates like a civic park with an ancillary café. The finished project will speak to the power of a singular idea with strong authorship and opportunities for elevated craft.
The building, once a mid-century bank and then a musical instrument store, seemed to be hiding in plain sight the first few times Binta walked past it. It wasn’t until she peeked through the graffiti-covered windows that she saw the true potential the site held. At that point, Binta tapped Studio BBA to fuse her love of performance art and the firm’s architectural designs. The firm’s ability to create authentic gathering places through the insertion of architectural forms, development of holistic systems, and the infusion of creative magic, was a natural fit for the project ahead.
Oakland Commons is designed as an intimate hub that can foster endless opportunities. As soon as guests walk through the fourteen-foot-high, mid-century bronze Nanawall sliding glass door system, one of the tallest commercial applications in the Bay Area, they are met with the “proscenium,” one of the main inspirations and central focus for COMMONS and a key aspect of Binta’s vision. Inspired by a recent visit to Copenhagen and built of intricate wood details by Roman Hunt, the proscenium’s deodar cedar is planed and milled to accentuate all three grain surfaces – end grain, face grain and edge grain – and provides a canopy for the feature café/bar below.
With symmetry in mind, the café/bar and restrooms consist of intricate two-toned tiled walls. An aqua shade, the design detail is reminiscent of patinaed copper, a classic Art Deco material that appears throughout Uptown Oakland and a strategic tie to the city at large. Stepping into COMMONS’ restroom is a stand-alone design moment, creating an outer-space-like moment that transports guests into what is intended to be a pause in their venue experience. Nearby, a common washroom sink is uniquely designed with custom concrete and stainless steel and a tapering basin, offering ADA compliance on one end, and shop-sink functionality at the other. Reinforcing the “civic” inspiration of use and space, Studio BBA incorporated custom mirrors into the tile pattern and placed vanity lights around the mirrors for a juxtaposing greenroom.
To ensure efficiency within the back-of-house spaces, Studio BBA successfully tucked away areas like cafe prep and storage, as well as a shower and greenroom for performers and staff. The basement boasts an event overflow area, sound booths for recording music, and various facilities and hookups for future uses. Upstairs, COMMONS’ renovated mezzanine includes a rentable conference room and open office for Binta’s staff and tenants.