Monday, March 26, 2007

our incubator: designing & thinking outside the box

An insightful interview with Jim Cossler, the Chief Evangelist of the Youngstown Business Incubator, was posted a few hours ago on the Defend Youngstown blog. You can read the entire interview here. A few of the most interesting highlights are included below, supplemented with some visuals of the buildings involved:

"YBI is currently at 105% capacity, because we have actually had to give up some of our conference space to accommodate the phenomenal growth of our firms. We have even been forced to use our entire basement here. The new center, which is being built immediately adjacent to our facility, will allow us to move some of our most successful firms out into it, freeing some space for a healthy list of startup ventures that have been eager to move in and join us."

"Beyond this fully funded project, we have another $2.75 million in secured funds for further development within the block. At this moment, I believe that we will be directing those dollars toward the renovation of the Semple Building, which sits between the new Center site and Home Savings & Loan. The Semple project can be completed by mid to late 2008, and will house YBI graduates and other tech companies that we might attract to Youngstown."

"Further down the road, our sights our set on renovating the Wells Building and adding it to our campus. There is no time frame set for this project, as we have not yet secured the entire amount of funding necessary for it. Doing so will require very active and aggressive work from our entire local legislative delegation."

Check out the crown on this building. Hopefully the terra cotta will be saved and cleaned in the future.

We lost a beautiful facade during the (see below) for the Youngstown Technology Center - the first expansion project Cossler mentions for the emerging Youngstown Technopole - which will now open in March 2008 instead of December 2007 because the review committee rejected the initial six proposals. The second attempt at the bidding will begin soon.

As we say a final goodbye to pieces of our history, piece by piece, who knows if there will be more beauty in what follows in its place?

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What next, then?

Assuming all of these ideas come to fruition (the Semple & the Wells renovations) what should be the next step in the distant, but rapidly approaching future?

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One problem the incubator has right now is its connectivity to the university.

Not many computer science undergrads are familiar with what's occuring downtown. In fact, when does entrepreneurism ever get thrown into the faces of the students?

Perhaps that future step needs to be even closer in proximity to the students, by incorporaing a new building directly on campus - creating a contant message to everyone at the university that innovation and entrepreneurism happens in Youngstown.

I can see it right now, at the corner of Rayen and Wick, right where the ugly parking lot sits across from the Main Library and south of the current location of the business school.

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Recently a design competition was held to build the deuxième Centre Georges-Pompidou in the city of Metz, France. You can see the winning entry here, with its sweeping views of the beautiful cathedral in Metz.

It's my favorite church in Europe - and a great place to sleep under if you miss the 3am bus back to your apartment (another story).

One of the losing designs however, was created by the architect Dominique Perrault. It looks like an open box.

So what about incorporating this open-box design into a building that is supposed to represent out-of-the-box thinking?

Let's borrow this design for a moment and have some fun with envisioning what can be inside:

I can imagine four stories within this new building.

1st floor - space for companies accepted into the incubator network.

2nd floor - space for the ramped up and highly improved computer science department at the university, including office space for professors, research faculty, and graduate students.

3rd floor - space for enterprenurial classrooms. Each classroom will contain the presentation and multimedia equipment necessary to hold a new series of classes - classes required for every business student, engineering student, industrial artist student, and computer science student at the university. Classes that mix all of these majors into teams competing or working on select projects with applications in industry.

4th floor - that's for the readers of this blog to answer.

In the comments section, please contribute to what else you believe this building needs . . .

1 comment:

Ben Trovato said...

A while back, I did a design for a somewhat similar building in Cleveland. (It should be published soon, I will forward the booklet when it becomes available.) Oddly enough, the site conditions are very similar to what will soon exist between the Wells and John R. Davis (as far as orientation, topography, etc). I would love to have the opportunity to design something very creative for that space that really expresses what goes on inside. It won't require a lot of money, just a willingness to listen to new ideas and some direct contact with the end users of the space, rather than a board of directors. In fact, as I write this, I'm thinking that I may superimpose my design on Youngstown's streetscape and see how it flows. Is the public ready for a new paradigm?