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  • Writer's pictureMN Builders

One More for the Backroads: An architect’s perspective on teamwork

If variety is indeed the spice of life, Berkeley-based architect David Trachtenberg has it made. A quick look at his firm’s portfolio reveals a virtual smorgasbord of architectural delights, ranging from stunning renovations of historical single-family homes in Sonoma to a transformative visitor experience at the Children’s Hospital Oakland. No two projects, no two builds, no two designs are the same, and David wouldn’t have it any other way. “As an architect, I look for unique projects,” he says, “It keeps things interesting while keeping the problem-solver inside me engaged.”

A campus extension 25 years in the making.

No wonder David and his team jumped at the opportunity to work once again with active travel pioneer Backroads on the expansion of their Berkeley campus. This latest project marks his firm’s fifth collaboration with Backroads founders Tim and Liz Hale, two clients deeply involved in every aspect of their company’s brand, including how the spaces they present to the world reflect it. David embraces that details-oriented engagement with his clients. “There’s just something different about working directly with the people who will live or work in the space you’re creating,” David says. “There’s a different kind of pride in place when the client is the actual user.”

Even better for David and his team, Tom and Liz have always understood that architecture, when done correctly, serves the deeper intentions of a business. “A graciousness of life is an inherent part of the Backroads brand and culture,” he notes. “My job as an architect is to make sure their campus mirrors that same graciousness.”

No easy task, for sure, especially when considering the unique challenges posed by this project’s mixed-use zoning restrictions that impacted everything from building codes and floor plans to garage doors and parking. And let’s not forget that this new space, formerly a grocery store, is an extension of Backroads’ existing campus and needed to retain design elements that unified it with the four other projects David has already designed for the company.

"We are responsible for creating a detailed recipe for how to bring big ideas to life, but we need the help of other experts very early in the process to ensure we don’t design something that is either too expensive or has constructability issues.”

Assembling the team.

To make sure this latest manifestation of the Backroads brand and culture turned out as well as his previous four, David and his architectural team informed their design with the perspectives of consultants, builders, and subcontractors who know the ins and outs of their respective areas of expertise. ”Architects are generalists,” David explains. “We are responsible for creating a detailed recipe for how to bring big ideas to life, but we need the help of other experts very early in the process to ensure we don’t design something that is either too expensive or has constructability issues.” These specialists include mechanical engineers, landscape architects, and, in this particular project, MN Builders.

As long-time collaborators with David on previous residential jobs, MN Builders was eager to work with David on a commercial project. With its mix of commercial-scale building needs, residential sensibilities, and an extremely hands-on client, the Backroads assignment proved an ideal opportunity to make the partnership happen. “We brought MN in very, very early in the process,” David remembers. “They pride themselves on their problem-solving and collaboration, and we needed both on this project.” The resulting non-adversarial triangulation between owner, architect, and builder afforded everyone involved in this project the very best chance of success.

Results that speak for themselves.

Backroads’ latest addition to their growing campus footprint offers so much more than an additional 3300-square-feet of space for the growing company. As any visitor to the new site can attest, a spirit of hospitality extends to every part of the building, from its stunning communal kitchen to its yoga space to its trademark ample room for bicycle storage. Additional unifying elements that connect this beautiful space with the rest of the campus include a barrel-vaulted roof and garden. David sees the beauty and lushness of the garden space, designed by his brother, Robert, owner of Garden Architecture, as an example of how unusually ammentized this new building is for a workspace.

David is understandably proud of what his firm achieved with this latest Backroads assignment. “In the end, this is a space that speaks to a specific culture, from the solar panels on its roof to the furnishings in its kitchen,” he says. “I admire Backroads for that. It’s not something you get to see or work on every day.”


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