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An airy Mission gallery and mechanic's shop can be thrown wide open and rearranged at will.

Andrew Dunbar of Interstice Architects installed aluminum-and-glass roll-up garage doors at each end of the building to accommodate owner Josh MacDonald's collection of restored vehicles.

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Dunbar (bottom) and project designer Matt Lindsay take advantage of the gallery's multipurpose space. The walls are lined with a grid of plywood panels that can be rearranged as needed.

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The street-facing 500-square-foot mezzanine hovers 17 feet above the main floor.

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MacDonald collects '70s Vanguard-Sebring electric CitiCars, shown here with Dunbar (left) and Lindsay. "I've always had to rent space for fixing vehicles," says MacDonald. "I wanted my own."

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The mezzanine is accessed via a three-storied myrtle wood staircase.

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The architects left narrow slots at some of the plywood joints for lighting strips and electrical outlets.

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Though Google software engineer Josh MacDonald had been fixing up cars and trucks since high school, at 39 he was growing weary of garage life. “In Connecticut where I grew up, I could’ve found airy country barns,” he says. “But most city warehouses I’ve rented tend to be cold, dark, and dirty.”

MacDonald and his wife, Ariana Bayer, an educator at the de Young Museum, envisioned a versatile shell where he could work on his collection of old step-vans and ’70s electric cars and she could host children’s art fairs and exhibits.

The pair eventually found their multi-purpose dream space in an enormous former neon-sign factory on Minna Street that had since been inhabited by a hatmaker, artists, and silk screen printers. It was exactly the kind of creative commons that MacDonald hoped to share with his like-minded friends.

He sought out architect Andrew Dunbar and landscape architect Zoee Astrachan, husband-and-wife principals at Interstice Architects, to open up the building and let the light pour in. The Interstice team conjured a 60-foot-long, 25-foot-wide, 27-foot-high skylighted steel tube lined with clear-sealed plywood panels. “They’re screwed together in a random grid so that they can be rearranged as needed,” the architect explains.

The 500-square-foot mezzanine—accessed via a corkscrew stair tower—contains a gallery, a mechanical room, a space for video screenings, a kitchenette, and a bathroom.

Already, the hard-to-define loft space has become more than just a tinkering workshop. MacDonald and Bayer hosted an inaugural group exhibition by California College of the Arts students in June, and MacDonald’s Google colleagues congregated here in the weeks before Burning Man to build visionary structures for their camp.

The roll-up aluminum-and-glass garage doors at each end of the building allow the pair to pull art pieces or retro vehicles into the 20-foot-deep, Turf Block–paved backyard. “That’s where the taco trucks can roll out during art openings,” says Astrachan.

The whole steel-and-plywood tube is wired with three-phase power for operating welding tools and pumping out music. “It’s the most electronically complex box I’ve ever designed,” says Dunbar. “It’s a dream shop. Anything can happen here.”


Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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