The Center

CAW Architects designed The Center in West Oakland to unite a central kitchen, culinary education center, and urban farm, fostering community connections through innovative, energy-efficient design solutions.

  • Completed 2023
  • CAW Architects, a firm widely-regarded for its enduring commitment to architecture for social change, and for being at the forefront of reshaping California education through design, is pleased to announce its latest educational project, The Center.

    Located in the heart of West Oakland, The Center marries a central kitchen, culinary arts education center, and an urban farm to support 34,000 students across nearly 77 schools for Oakland Unified School District. It is designed to provide nearly 30,000 fresh-cooked meals each day to feed students and families throughout the District.

    The design is organized around a large outdoor court, shaded under an expansive wood trellis. This space serves as the central hub, connecting the central-kitchen, education classrooms, and instructional garden into a single, unified space serving students, food-service workers, educators, and the community. Through large glass roll-up doors, the classrooms flow directly onto the outdoor court, and then into the instructional garden and greenhouse. The classrooms include a full-service demonstration and teaching kitchen, student education space, and a second flex lab classroom supporting programming. This education center serves early childhood to young adult programs for the entire Oakland community.

    The central kitchen is designed to maximize the use of locally sourced ingredients, when possible, to create freshly prepared ingredients and meals. Ultimately, the students will be able to experience the sights and smells of freshly created meals through bulk serving kitchens, as part of the District’s broader food service plan.

    Constructed in two phases, the first phase contains raised bed sections, a fully-equipped outdoor kitchen with pizza oven, two outdoor classrooms, a greenhouse, and garden work-areas. It acts as a field-trip destination for elementary, middle, and high school children, where they can learn about the growing cycles and types of produce, and then pick and prepare a meal. The future farm will offer science, health, wellness, urban agriculture, and career-based learning opportunities for high school students, as well as adult education programs to support the broader community. The space’s greenhouse produces all starter plants from seed to support school gardens across nearly 60 schools within the District. The District is currently planning the second phase to create an urban farm, community garden, and nature play space with the undeveloped portion of the site.

    CAW Architects designed several innovative solutions into the project to reduce energy consumption and enhance building performance. These include a C02 based closed-loop refrigerant system that is more efficient than traditional systems, and a heat-recovery loop to capture the waste-heat produced by the refrigeration to help heat the building’s domestic water. The building has 100% daylight autonomy in all major spaces, while the outdoor trellis was designed to eliminate all glare in the classrooms. The project is topped with a solar-ready roof for future use and, in a future phase, enough panels will reduce energy impacts by 50% over typical, energy intensive central kitchens. These design features, combined with the architecture and site planning, create a new model for food, health, and wellness that supports an entire region.

    Design: CAW Architects
    Associate Architect: Dialog Design
    Engineers & Contractors: C. Overaa & Co., Tulum Innovative Engineering Inc, Eclipse Electric of CA
    Construction Manager: Cumming Group
    Photography: Bruce Damonte