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Skylight? Try Sky Tube.

Zahid Sardar | November 10, 2014 | Story Interiors

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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