Are Raw Spaces Gen Y’s Creative Places?

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What is it about the word “raw” that nurtures our spirits and piques our interest? It’s as though most of the Gen Y folks I know – and me, as well – are pulled toward products and spaces associated with this fanciful description.

The truth of the matter is that a raw space – with its thick beams, concrete floors, pocked walls, and huge workzones flooded with light – seems to encapsulate an environment that’s unabashedly exposed.

Like our generation, maybe?

The trend toward tastefully (and very basically) renovating existing structures and capitalizing on their perfectly imperfect character is a growing one. Many of us recognize and respect hard work, and an old warehouse that’s withstood the test of time represents the ethic and ideals we aspire to show in our own endeavors.

Take Denver, for example, a city with deep manufacturing roots. As a new and enthusiastic resident here, I can tell you that when it comes to our weekly produce, the bedroom walls of our charming duplexes, and even the wool that makes up our fuzzy sweaters, many of us simply like it naked! Untouched, raw, and simple.

Another aspect of the trend in using existing structures for today’s workspaces is sustainability. Eco-awareness has grown exponentially over the past two decades or so – in all facets of our lifestyles.

In the design world, architects and interior designers are doing their part to implement adaptive reuse projects. Firms such as Mithun Partners Architects and Interior Designers, Inc. are putting their heart and soul into revitalizing existing buildings through sustainable practices. Last weekend while giving my college friends a tour of Denver, we stumbled upon one of their most significant accomplishments: the REI retail store located in LoDo or “lower downtown.”

Photo Courtesy of WayMarking

The building beckoned us in with its arched windows, exposed brick walls, and voluminous, open floor plan flooding with natural light. We happily accepted the invitation. There was a warmth, even a sensitivity, to the building that was so endearing.

The employees seemed to carry and energy and positivity that I felt myself just by walking in the space. (And, as a customer, I felt apart of the historical pertinence of the space just by perusing The North-Face sale section.)

This building, which originally was constructed as The Denver Tramway Power Company Plant building along the confluence of the Platte River and Cherry Creek, served as the power source for the entire Denver electric trolley system.

Platte River
Photo Courtesy of WayMarking

REI’s 10-year-old dwelling spot is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

REI - sign
Photo Courtesy of WayMarking

But beyond the pleasing aesthetic, the allure is all there because the concept – from top to bottom – is smart. And these are the same types of elements we see being adopted in modern workspaces that are sustainably tapping into the structural roots of American architecture from decades past:

  • Acoustical ceiling tiles with high recycled content
  • Biocomposite (recycled newspapers and soy bean fibers) countertops, shelving, and display fixtures
  • Efficient heating, cooling, and ventilation systems
  • Wood flooring from certified sustainable forests

The trend is being observed abroad, too, where even older buildings are serving as the foundation of a rising creative class. A stunning example of such construction is this industrial loft in Barcelona found on

Barcelona loft - entrance
Photo from
Barcelona Loft - Living Rm
Photo from
Photo from

I couldn’t scroll any further before getting the entire story of this sensual masterpiece,

What was originally a stable, bomb shelter, then printing shop is now a modern loft where industrial style and simple materials live together with a very modern concept of space and ecology.

And, as a third element to the changing workspace, this gem of a property was found using technology. Yep, the owner found his beloved live-work space by surfing online!

So here — a neoclassical building, built in 1930, in the Eixample district — were three deciding factors that embodied work ethic, re-use, and an evolutionary work environment driven by technology.

The resident took the structure from its dilapidated condition to restoration after 8 months of construction and the saving grace of Interior Design firm Invest Pedralbes. Distributed between two floors, the house is basically a large rectangle with windows on opposite sides and two courtyards with brick columns. Said a Loftenberg blogger:

The remodel did restore the original structure, but also opened up additional skylights. All the flooring was removed and the walls were stripped to bricks. The windows were replaced with bare metal frames. To help with insulation, a double roof has been installed with an air chamber to have a optimal climate and ecology. Heating is provided with oil radiators and heated towel rails. The natural light is abundant and comes from windows, skylights and patios.

These two spaces go to show that we can live, work, and play “raw.” Between the story and the style, there is so much to gain by following this trend.

Though the movement broke ground in more recent years, I believe there is a genuine philosophy behind it that is here to stay. Why cover it up when you can go glamorously, astutely, raw?

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