Rebar Group

Disciplines: landscape architecture | City: San Francisco, CA | Scope of Work: varied, from temporary and small-scale to permanent and large-scale
Date Visited: 11.20.12

Location: 3330 20th Street San Francisco, CA 94110
Firm Size: 16
Founded: 2004

The three founding partners of the urban design group Rebar–John Bela, Matthew Passmore, and Blaine Merker–are the masterminds behind Park(ing) Day, an urban intervention project that took place at a San Francisco parking space in 2005 and has since kicked off an annual, global-wide event “where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places.”

I remember being introduced to PARK(ing) Day as a volunteer back in university and loving the idea as an open-source, temporary urban intervention. Quick and low-budget, a project like PARK(ing) Day is truly inspirational in its capacity to challenge and change perspectives in how individuals or communities can shape the city around them. So after discovering that the origins of PARK(ing) Day trace back to the Rebar Group, it was fantastic to later learn that Rebar actually specializes in and continues to create similar temporary urban interventions as their line of work.

I first met John Bela, one of the founding partners, and designer Arianne Gelardin at the opening party for one of Rebar’s new parklets and followed up with a tour of their studio in the Mission later that week. The parklet, which is the first of its kind in San Francisco’s Marina District, is located directly outside of the Rapha Cycle Club (pictures below).

This highly multidisciplinary firm–designers have backgrounds ranging from law and publishing to engineering and landscape architecture–found its roots in 2004, after the founding partners designed the Cabinet National Library project, a library built into an earthen wall containing issues for Cabinet magazine, a non-profit art and culture quarterly. Shortly thereafter, they embarked on the PARK(ing) project, which after garnering tremendous interest and praise, opened up the door to opportunities that helped shape Rebar into a full-fledged studio.

From their mission statement:

“Rebar is an interdisciplinary studio operating at the intersection of art, design and ecology. Our mission is to create objects, spaces and ideas that inspire people to re-imagine the environment and our place in it.”

Eight years later, they’ve since built up an incredibly varied and impressive portfolio that ranges from temporary small-scale work to the more permanent and large-scale. The common thread throughout the work is the sense of whimsy and user generated urbanism that can bring people closer to their environment and even inspire them to take a greater role in shaping the city that they live in.

Located in the heart of the Mission District in a brick warehouse, the building housing Rebar’s workspace was selected primarily for the spacious workshop on the first floor, where designers can test ideas, build full-scale prototypes, and tinker in metal and woodworking. And within the approximate 5,000 square feet of design and workshop space–with plans of knocking down a few walls for expansion, there are wisps and markers of all of their project histories, from miniature sculptural prototypes for new projects to the souvenirs of past projects.

Up the stairs on the second floor sits their studio, a space brightly lit by ample skylights with walls of exposed brick that gives the place a familiar east coast feel. Small-scale prototypes of kinetic sculptures and Christmas lights dangle from exposed wooden beams; design magazines and books cover desks; an African drum stands upright at a corner; a group of designers sit in a small circle discussing ideas; the office is small but quirky, with an interesting and creative flair.

While chatting with JB and Ari over lunch, we discussed upcoming projects, the design process, and the nature of their varied and diverse work–there is no standard project and Rebar has worked with designers of all backgrounds in international settings. Since Rebar tests and plays with the fabric of ever-changing cities, it’s fitting that their process and design team also constantly adapt to new opportunities and projects. Depending on the project and the needs of a new client, Rebar has seen all sides of the design spectrum, working from a purely consulting position on certain projects to carrying out the whole design process from conception to final assembly on others. To facilitate collaboration and constant discussion of fresh ideas, the studio also holds a ‘Thursday Jam,’ a weekly collaboration on new ideas or introduction of new projects over lunch.

Though there are usually between nine to sixteen members on staff consisting of partners, associate designers, and designers, the design team at Rebar swells and shrinks in size depending on the needs of a project as well as on Rebar’s Apprenticeship Program, which accepts three to four applicants for an experience that “is fun, varied, rigorous and involves a wide range of pursuits from pushing pixels with a mouse to pushing logs onto an island with heavy machinery.”

I had a fantastic and fascinating visit to Rebar’s studio and will keep an eye out for their future projects. Thanks JB and Ari!

Pictures of the Rapha Parklet

From the description: For the Cycle Club San Francisco, Rapha and design studio Rebar have deconstructed an iconic Rapha Citroën H-Van in order to create a ‘bookended’ public space. Known as a ‘parklet’, our design blends the cultural history of road racing’s support caravan with the contemporary cycling scene of San Francisco’s Marina District. Serving as a gathering place for group rides and the tales told upon return, our parklet is open to anyone, regardless of their bicycle persuasion.

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