Episode 20

Design for Connection

More people today are thinking about the intersection between boundaries of personal safety and comfort and the ability to connect with people and nature. Daniel Krivens explores with us the years of thought he’s given this challenge and the architectural solutions he's made to nourish and celebrate those connections.

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I've been in San Francisco working in corporate interiors, doing workplace design for the last 20 years, and whenever I get a chance I’m outside playing around with or recycling materials and always making something. I've grown from wanting to make something, to wondering what I should make. And this question about what makes us most happy and how we get into nature, has come to the front of my interest. Daniel Krivens


CCB: [00:00:00] Welcome to the ONEder podcast, this is your host CCB. We talk about people, culture and human centered design on this podcast, and the conversation about people and human centered design is receiving more attention today as a result of the challenges from covid and our forced departure from the workplace. These concerns become even more critical as we plan for the return to the office since we're focused on well-being and the safety of all of us, as well as our ability to connect and collaborate with others and accomplish what we need to do. Our guest today is Daniel Krivens, who will introduce himself in just a minute. But I first want preface this conversation by saying Daniel and I have an ongoing dialogue about design and place and connections and the human experience, and he is an excellent muser, that is one who muses about many aspects of an idea. So you are in store for a real treat for the next 30 minutes. Daniel, welcome to the ONEder podcast.

Daniel Krivens : [00:01:19] Carolyn, Thank you so much for having me. Always love talking to you.

CCB: [00:01:23] As do I, not talking to me, but talking to you. So, how about you spend a couple of minutes and introduce yourself to our audience. Let us know how you got to be where you are today.

Daniel Krivens : [00:01:37] I've been in San Francisco working in corporate interiors, doing workplace design for the last 20 years, and whenever I get a chance I’m outside playing around or recycling with materials and always making something. So along the way, I've kind of grown from wanting to make something, to wondering what I should make. And this question about what makes us most happy and how we get into nature, has kind of come to the front of my interest, you know, so I've been working on iterations for a long time now, exploring the boundaries of personal safety and comfort, with the ability to connect with nature and people. And those things are usually kind of opposing. So, coming up with something that got them both together has been a super fun problem to work on. I've been looking at how I can reconnect man to nature for a long time that's been keeping me up and excited about things.

CCB: [00:02:46] Your work from corporate interiors and interior architecture into the making of actual solutions and utilizing materials and getting into that recycling of, and sustainable elements, has as you say, been connected to nature. And I love your website kind of mantra, "You love projects that reveal the nature that moves your spirit". We have an experience together at One Workplace where you helped us envision an entry table. And that was part of an experiment, if you will, with that duplication of intention…making the table function as a table, but also function as a welcoming area. Could you talk about that a little tiny bit? Because that was a fascinating challenge.

Daniel Krivens : [00:03:56] Yeah, thanks. Yeah, I loved working on that project. We were wondering, like, well, you know, what's an ice breaker and how do you get people to talk? Because it's more than just about propinquity and proximity. It's giving people an excuse to say hi. And what's this thing made of, it's unusual? When you have a shared history, that's one nice icebreaker and so there's a physical shared history that you can kind of maybe employ to get that done. I got access to metal from the Bay Bridge when they first started taking it down and big chunks of steel. I thought that might be a fun thing, people all know it, so but you're seeing it in a new way. So this might be the icebreaker that starts sharing ideas between them. So, yeah, we got that steel and we had wood from the Transbay terminal. That was the pilings things that the new Salesforce tower at that location, the old building was had piles driven into the mud of beautiful trees and just had this great history and they just feel great to touch. So we combine these two kind of bits to make this table for you guys. So that's where that came from.

CCB: [00:05:22] And it worked from the story standpoint, not only with all of that historical connection, but the fact that it was for our Oakland office. And so much of that was connected to the City of Oakland, which was something that we were trying to do in cementing place as a part of the experience and the conversation. That nature of place is something that I know you have thought about. Place as it can combine that access to nature that you feel so strongly about and the support to the being itself, the being that used its place. So I wondered if you would talk for a little bit about that nature. Why is nature so, so important?

Daniel Krivens : [00:06:20] There's a lot of science to back it up as a creature, just sort of feels like magic and the more we find out about it, we can talk about the hormones that it triggers or the dopamine or the alliesthesia. That's the often-delightful sense you have when you're experiencing a change in your environment around you, all these things come into play. I was super lucky. I got to spend a bunch of time as a kid just playing outside of town and you know, there's just hardly anything as healing as nature. Maybe we'll never know why, and that's fine, but being so disconnected from it seems like a bit of a shame. And the tough part is we've lost most of our fur, thick skin or whatever we used to use to keep us warm. I don't know how much time we had to spend in caves, but with all the architecture that we've built, the sense of place gets often lost. Orange County becomes stucco buildings and it's not really oranges. And all the buildings that offered inside to keep us safe and warm, kind of crush out whatever it was that we wanted there in the first place.

You know, Frank Lloyd Wright tried to get around that when he built Falling Water and all his broken box, open corners. You know the guy said “I love being out nature” so he built the house around this rock so the guy could still be there by a stream. We don't have Frank Lloyd Wright around and it's a challenge to figure out how you can maintain all of that kind of life affirming, natural wonder that we've evolved around for all of our kind of evolutionary existence in a modern world, where we can have some Wi-Fi comfort and heat and safety. So bringing those two together would be kind of ideal. How do you get the comfort and maintain the wildness?

CCB: [00:08:35] So it's a curious challenge to a trained architect to think about not using architecture or manipulating architecture in such a way that it functions almost empathetically. And I just wonder in the conversations that we've had about what buildings are doing and what buildings are not doing, how they might shift to help us be more comfortable, more, whole.

Daniel Krivens : [00:09:20] I love architecture, it's just so fun, I can't get enough. But in terms of why you're making it, it's just so much to kind of get your head wrapped around, getting all the stuff done in the first place. Trying to maybe make it work in some different ways. It took a while for me to even be able to ask the question, really. I was wondering, like, what's the perfect place for conversation? How can you feel like you're outside without kind of ruining the outside? So here's what architecture might be able to do, is that if you measured it by how much it kind of maintains your evolutionary inheritance, that might be a good thing. We're evolved with this agency to kind of get what we want, see forward, manipulate stuff in front of us with our hands, and see opportunity and smell and sense and all that stuff. Architecture is critical in playing a role and providing a safe, warm place for us to kind of survive, and enjoy things around us, but maybe it can be measured also in a way by how much it contributes and reinforces this agency to engage with the world in front of you. I think these two seem like kind of separate things that can happen to go together, but that might be some kind of rubric here. How can architecture make sure it's not just protecting you, but not getting in the way of your evolutionary inheritance, you've got to be able to engage the world in front of you. I think that's where a lot of satisfaction comes from, a lot of sense of power and a lot of connection to nature.

CCB: [00:11:42] So you've been working on this project for a number of years, which is, I'm going to say, prescient in today, as of today, given the fact that you were taking that challenge, that question of how to connect to nature, how to maintain the safety and the privacy and the isolation that you might need at certain times, but also support and almost engage connections, with social connections as well as connection to nature. So, talk some about the beginning of this project. And then we're going to speak to where we are today.

Daniel Krivens : [00:12:30] I had so much fun, you know, wheeling one of the first iterations onto your showroom floor a few years back. Right. This was this idea that, OK, it was made for inside, at this point, I was still working on the fundamental idea of feeling protected, but having total panoramic vision forward, if you didn't know something was there. So this ended up being like made out of this like kind of almost boat that enveloped the back of you, but was totally open in front. And the idea that you'd kind of sit a little bit higher so that you could have like a throne-like commanding view. And with your back protected, it would give you just kind of sense of physical safety that also parlayed into a sense of psychological safety. And hopefully from there, confidence to kind of relax and use your prefrontal cortex to do more listening and empathize and make stronger connections with people. And then the people connection power was that this table that you sat at, you could be with another person at the corner of this table and they were protected too, kind of both on the interior side where the corner is often sort of like the best collaboration and negotiation position. But the forward two corners of the table that jutted out were kind of welcoming to visitors, and because you were raised up, people who walked up were eye to eye with you, and that made it easier for them to connect because nobody wants to impose. So this equal eye-level footing made it less of a commitment for somebody to come on up and say hi. And there was a bar there, which is a hospitable place for you to offer them to share a tea with you or an idea. This was a great start in terms of being open, but then what we found is that people wanted that next level where they were inside. You had privacy and control, could have private conversations. And I didn't have any of that kind of envelope worked out. But that was the beginning of the idea of like looking at the psychological factors that stop people from connecting and building a space around that for one or two people inside and two or four on the outside.

CCB: [00:15:10] And your thinking and your iterating has continued on. And we loved hearing that it was starting to move outside, that the whole environment could live outside of the built environment. I'd love to hear your take on what's a mini built environment that has different attributes.

Daniel Krivens : [00:15:40] The heart of all of that stuff that I was just describing, that I got to show you at first in that show, ended up becoming a pretty good foundation for this outdoor pod. We kept the corner table. We kept the elevated part. We kept the outside bar. But how to get the enclosure? You'd stay warm and not have to worry about the wind and the rain and have complete panoramic forward view and still be open. That's been the challenge I've been working on since. So, yeah, this box is maybe just a touch bigger. It's kind of like Vitruvian sized, it's just out past your fingertips, maybe one point five times more than the length from fingertip to fingertip and still seats two people, but it's a box, if you look at a square and plan and if the back two sides were closed and in the front two sides were just totally glazed. You'd have a simple idea of what this box is like. So if you are to imagine yourself inside this room, imagine a table pushed to the forward corner where full height glass is from table top all the way up to the ceiling and there's no post in the forward corner. So you can just look out or be there with a friend looking out and then imagine just being able to pull back that glass from the forward corner, two giant panes on either side just pull back and also in that table that was inside, it's now just really kind of half inside and half outside, you get a good like almost a four foot corner on each side, that's just an open corner and that's it just turned out to be simpler than I had thought. Really, you can kind of get these supersized glazing panels to slide really easily with some soft close hardware and build an enclosure around that has like insulation and felt on the inside so that it's a great video conference room and can be outside and it's not too much glare from the lights and sound's good in there. And well, the outside skin is right for, you know, solar panels, that can handle powering up your laptop or a vast heater or small air heater or say, AC if it's just getting too hot. So, yeah, we just kind of used some insulation and wrapped an enclosure around this meeting machine. And that's what gets you this kind of Vitruvian Box with a forward glazed corner that opens it up and there's nothing in between you and nature except for this table and bar where you can meet people if you want to.

CCB: [00:18:48] So who's seen this?

Wait a minute, I'm going to stop for a minute. And I'm going to say I was reading something that you had written a couple of years back talking about working with Steve Jobs. And one of the statements that you made in this piece of writing said workplaces should be engines where new ideas are rapidly exchanged and tested, but great conversations and teamwork won't thrive when you're not feeling supported and psychologically safe. So feels like your exposure to some pretty phenomenal thinkers has helped you move this forward. But the next step is getting much more universal awareness built. So I'm going to go back and say, has anyone seen the this magic meeting box?

Daniel Krivens : [00:19:49] Well, I'll get to that, but I was just going to comment back with that, that Steve Jobs article, because the part that was so cool was that I had sort of been disappointed in my life, that I saw people with power. He did something that seemed special in a meeting, which is that he questioned if the whole direction of the project was right, because he really wanted to make sure he had a chance to kind of hear from everybody. And I just hadn't seen a leader go all the way back to the core question and say, hey, are we heading in the right direction? And that kind of vulnerability and willingness to say, I'd rather get it right than look like I'm right. I thought that was cool and just kind of went back to, you know, if you're feeling confident, strong, you can have some more vulnerability and just say that I'd rather get it right than put on airs.

So, OK, so who's seen this thing? You know, this thing, it's fresh out of the oven, so I'm not sure really anybody seen it. I just took photos of it, you know, I just built it. Covid started and I took time to go get to the next phase and get a prototype that could go outdoors, so I built two. One was a single version was a little bit more like a small SUV sized and mirrored. And then I did the second one after that, which is the double sized one that we've been talking about. They're kind of going through the Pacific Northwest winter testing, out in a field right now with icicles and mice and just kind of keeping out the elements and the rain and so, yeah I haven't really actually shown them yet. They're just on the website right now and just undergoing, like, nature testing. But I was particularly happy because my friend jumped in and she was not very high and she want to tell me how she felt and she said “I feel like a commander”. And I was like, “this is exactly what I was hoping for”. I mean, I've just had some friends and family in it but it does seem like some organic stuff happens. There's actually a video of people having a conversation around the pod and then I put it on the website. So it just spontaneously happened. It wasn't staged. It's just that the people on the inside were sitting and everybody was eye-to-eye when they walked up to the corner bar. So there's this kind of geometry of everybody seeing each other, and a quality that allows room for space and conversation. And it's kind of extra timely now with covid because it's easier to sort of maintain six feet apart. And of course, with a table that's half outside, you get an incredible virus dispersion capacity. You're not worried about stuffy air in a situation like that.

CCB: [00:22:53] Ok, so clearly, we're going to share the website so other people are going to start to be able to see it and I think make comments about it. I was thinking about another bit of conversation that you and I had about the amount, when we talk again about place, the amount of outdoor space that is squandered in our environment at this moment in time. Particularly, well, you can think about, if we're not moving around at the same vehicular pace that we have in the past, what are all those parking spaces doing and those suburban areas that have lots and lots of outside space that doesn't want to be eaten up but might that be repurposed to help with the current work challenge? What do you think?

Daniel Krivens : [00:24:10] It seems like there's an awful lot of outdoor space that's around and I used drive all the time and I love having parking spots, although I've been going slower and riding my bike and if you can, it's amazing to be able to be present when you're outside, and that means going a little bit slower. But yeah, one of the kind of cool things about having this extra car realm is that we might not have discovered it. But now that the need for having like a life outside with covid is so great, that the 15-minute cities, parklet demand, safer streets, and all that kind of disruptive reclamation of the car-scape has sort of shown us what urbanists have been kind of hoping for… was that there's a lot of good life to have had out on the streets, even though, the restaurant scene in San Francisco with all about the outdoor dining. In urban ways I think there's no space available to do anything, like San Francisco's built out, but even in San Francisco, streets are closed off or bike lanes get put in or I think there's just a kind of like, what do we value in society? Well, ten years ago, we really valued being able to get around in our cars and not have to drive or look for parking for an hour. But right now, working from home a lot more, don't need the vehicles, so of course, we're going to value being able to have a healthier life outside. So that means, you know, we get a chance to rethink what's happening with the streets. Even Champs-Élysées I guess.

CCB: [00:25:56] That's right.

Daniel Krivens : [00:25:58] Going to take out a ton of parking lanes and driving lanes and really kind of say “this for you Parisians”. And so that's an urban aspect and then a suburban aspect. You know, even there there's gobs of parking and, you know, all sorts of urban rules for minimum number of parking spaces and of course, everybody wants a place to put their car in the garage. I would, too. But between the front yards and the parking spaces, streets, there's actually kind of a lot of interstitial space that's in the realm of cars and if we start to think about what they've done in Paris and other urban situations, it might be that people might not have to feel stuck in a kind of urban, single use place, if we find ways to get more mixed use stuff happening, that's starting to happen more with dwelling and densities and ADU changes so that people can have more people in the space and multifamily stuff happening. This all kind of aligns well with dispersion of densities from downtown, now that people find out that they can work from home and maybe even if they can work from home, they don't want to all the time. And they might need to get out or be able to take a walk and see other people. So, yeah, it seems like there's room for the suburbs and urban situations to kind of use that car-space and landscape, throw in some agricultural bins with awesome native plants and create a little mini paradise around where there has been an empty spot. So I'm looking forward to more plants,

CCB: [00:27:40] More plants, nature. You're big on nature and we love that. I was wondering, because the outdoor space is becoming more attractive, and we also have issues about sustainability and about preservation, what does that mean to the built environment, to you? I'm saying that while we want to spend more time in nature and we would promote more time out in nature, we also have concerns. There also are concerns about what we do in nature and how we utilize it and how or what impact we might have, what humans might have, on nature moving our built environment around.

Daniel Krivens : [00:28:53] No, that's totally appropriate.

CCB: [00:28:56] So there's a balance, obviously a balance question.

Daniel Krivens : [00:29:01] Yeah, yeah, definitely. Imagine spring runs around, comes around, and you went out to Yosemite and you're looking up at Half Dome and you saw some extra little things parked all over the place. "Oh, man. I came out to get the nature so what's happening?" You don't want to pave over paradise and build out everything. So there's definitely a bounce to be had. One of the things I think helps a balance in general is awareness. And just in like, LEED certification I thought it was interesting that one of the things you have to do is get metering and when I was getting my license I was like, "Why? Why do you have to have metering for this project? How does that help save money? It just tells people how much they're using?" And it just goes along with this idea that you've got to be able to measure to know, and you're not going to kind of take care of something you don't love. Getting people closer to nature and really interacting with it, I think gives you a really nice sensitivity to loving, and wanting to nurture, and kind of curate the space around you. Maybe that's a part of the balancing act that you, it's just hard to love unless you know it, and if nature's right in front of your face, I think you're going to treat it more like. Like the question might be, how could I take care of more instead of how can I pave over more? Hopefully.

CCB: [00:30:47] I have one final kind of thought question I want to ask you, and then you’ll have an opportunity. I want you to share some final thoughts that you may have. But another one of the articles that you wrote that I read and appreciated was that, "Building bridges has failed to unite us--America needs to embrace the front porch instead". The thoughts that you expressed in that piece speak to the porch in your magic meeting space, but it also speaks to a level of inclusiveness that I know you strongly believe in. So could you talk about that for just a brief minute?

Daniel Krivens : [00:31:31] I said, we don't need a bridge, we need a porch. I was kind of feeling like, in the question of equity, like, exchange of ideas and culture and stuff that unites us all and helps us see us not as other, but more like an extended family has to happen, like organically and you don't want to put a ton of barriers in between. And making a bridge just didn't seem like a broad enough viaduct for change to happen. I thought the idea of more structural change, like something we've had before, like a porch where that sense of psychological security, because you're in your house, but you can also engage with the world in front of you. I'd say the porch is actually the closest thing to a pod I've seen in previous incarnations. That allows you to sort of repetitively have a chance to get to know your neighbors and start a conversation over time that builds trusting relationships. And kind of like the idea of people out being able to mix more, it's good for understanding, it's good for economies, it's good for innovation and if buildings are kind of blocking that then it's hard to get the conversation started. And it also kind of entrenches a kind of disparity and ideas and wealth to a certain extent, that's not good for all aspects of society. So kind of having a place where more ideas can pass through excites me. Where we just got to have a little easier time getting over those humps that stop us from connecting.

CCB: [00:33:51] Ah, the humps that stop us from connecting. I was going to just say that the conversations with you, Daniel Krivens, always spark additional thought, and they illuminate connections for me, and they remove a sense of isolation because there's kindred spirit and kindred thinking. So I thank you very much. What final thoughts would you like to share with the audience?

Daniel Krivens : [00:34:29] One of the things I'm just also a little excited about is that I just feel lucky to be able to work on a project at a time when so many other people are working towards similar things. And so it's easier to make a lot more progress. And I hope it can contribute a little bit. One of the aspects is in energy use, because 22% of the world's energy needs is going to energize our buildings. As developing nations, kind of like developing third world situations, they're going to need a lot more AC which is a huge power draw. It's just kind of nice to have a time now where the price of solar is dropping like crazy and batteries are coming online and people are combining all these things so that you can kind of assemble something that can maybe just really help out with this kind of power draw. So that was just one aspect of the pod where our next version is planned to be totally clad in solar panels from like walls and ceilings, kind of like an occupiable solar plant, and with a small AC unit that you won't even have to hook up to the grid. There's just a really nice relationship between the sun and cooling power that is not intuitive, but its super simple. You just end up making more power with all these solar panels and you use that to kind of cool down your place and then find yourself maybe without as much money or resources and in a place kind of closer to nature, able to connect people to, that leads you to a fuller life. So I'm happy and excited about being able to offer a chance for people to get those connections to nature. And it's fun talking to you. It's a super insightful.

Daniel Krivens : [00:36:45] Fantastic, Daniel Krivens. I'm going to say we are enormously grateful for your time and for sharing your excitement and your ideas, which I'm sure will make other people think as well. The ONEder podcast can be heard on all of the streaming services where you listen to any of your podcasts, and we will look forward to talking to you all again soon. Thank you and goodbye.