We tend to think of buildings as immobile. They are brick and mortar symbols of stability, complete with permanent addresses. But what if buildings as we know them could change? What if one day you could purchase groceries in a mobile building made entirely out of repurposed materials — one that solved food distribution issues while bringing together local people and local art?
The designers, constructors and creators of FM Venue are working to make these buildings a reality. The team, made up of architecture students Derick Lee, Kyle Usselton, Matt Faller and Matthew Yungert, are 2012 Innovation Quest finalists. Their repurposed shipping container will serve as a flexible food venue in San Francisco, allowing the building to move wherever it is needed.
“Essentially, the shipping container is a spatial experience,” Yungert said. “You’re going to actually be able to go into it. Two-thirds of the container is kitchen space, and one-third is flexible space. That flexible space has a module that comes out and plug-ins. Some ideas (for the space) were a grocery market — FM Grocers, a community kitchen or a bar.”
The plug-ins included in the module would allow the building to simultaneously serve as a stage, a pop-up shop, a theater and an educational space.
Uselton, Faller and Yungert initially came up with the idea by merging their architectural theses. Individually, their thesis ideas had to do with food, music and tectonics, but together, they wanted to create a multi-use module that incorporated all three aspects. FM originally stood for Food + Music, but after fine-tuning their idea and asking Lee to join as a development consultant, the group decided to focus on the food aspect of the project, changing the initials to mean Food Module.
The group wants to introduce FM Venue as an economic revitalizer, a cutting edge architectural reality and a way to address social problems relating to food availability.
Lee said “food deserts,” or areas with a lack of access to fresh food could especially benefit from the movability of the venue. According to the group’s May 12 Innovation Quest presentation, there are currently 6,529 food deserts in the United States.
“During times of economic recession, our cities undergo catharsis: a purge of expiring business models and ideas that no longer have social value,” Lee said in his pitch to the Innovation Quest judges. “So why is it that the food industry remains resilient and simply changes it’s language of business into more flexible alternatives such as food trucks and farmers’ markets? Flexibility is the key to starting up a new business in today’s economy.”
And FM Venue is built on an extremely flexible foundation. Usselton said the Venue’s innovation was the idea of “double flexibility,” ”We are offering programmatic interchangeability with the plug-ins and geographic flexibility because it’s active and movable in the city,” Usselton said.
The group estimates the total cost of custom designing, building and implementing their venue would be $50,000, a fraction of the cost of traditional building and design.
Clark Turner is a computer science professor who has also served as a member of the iQ Liason Group for the competition. He said most of the donors to the program are Cal Poly alumni looking to give money directly back to the most enterprising students.
“They want to find the brightest, coolest students with the most business sense and give them a little start,” Turner said.
FM Venue presented its concept to a panel of Innovation Quest judges on May 12 to try and win one of the three top placements at Cal Poly. The original group of 120 applicants was whittled down to 18 finalists. Lee said the turnout was excellent and the attending judges seemed interested and engaged in the concept and impressed with the progress the team had made.
Thomas di Santo is an architecture associate professor and senior thesis adviser for Usselton, Faller and Yungert. As the adviser for most of the FM Venue group, di Santo has seen some presentations featuring the nearly complete project.
“I saw their presentation for IQ,” di Santo said. “They were on fire; I would be surprised if they didn’t place. Architecture thesis projects are rarely built and are rarely commercially viable. Their thesis is both.”
Di Santo said the spring has been a mad rush to complete the project and secure additional funding for more modifications.
While Innovation Quest provided the group of finalists with $100, the first place group will walk away with $15,000. Second place will win $10,000 and the third place group will be awarded $5,000.
Most of the money FM Venue has put into the project, an estimated $3,000 to $4,000 to date, has come out of pocket or from donors such as agriculture professor Kevin Piper who provided land for them to work on, and Container Alliance, which donated the shipping container they are converting.
All four of the FM Venue group members will graduate in 2012. Next, the group will work with their contacts in San Francisco to try and place their prototype. While FM Venue has been told the idea has tremendous commercial appeal, their motives are ultimately more altruistic.
“That’s the thing, this taps into looking at society and benefitting society, not just purely as a monetary thing,” Yungert said.