The Makers Nation was in New York City last week checking out the maker scene and naturally couldn’t resist stopping in to take a peek at the Centre for Social Innovation’s Starrett-Lehigh location.

We met up with David Gise, the Director of Operations for the 24,000sq ft space who was kind enough to give us a full tour and explain the backstory of how this stunning addition to the CSI network came to be.

One of the first things you notice when walking through the space is just how bright it is, sure the white walls and open concept layout help but it’s mostly thanks to the eight miles of continuous glass windows that wrap their way around the iconic building. The windows are scheduled to be upgraded in the coming months but Dave has plans to use the old ones for CSI’s interior glass partitions to preserve some of the building’s history.

The windows aren’t the only things that are repurposed in the space, other highlights include: the apothecary turned kitchen (pictured above) that welcomes you into the 250-person event space when you first arrive. Ceiling mounted garage doors can then be used to split up the area to create three individual breakout/workshop rooms. Oh, and the beautifully industrial looking communal tables? Those are made out of discarded freight elevator doors from the building itself. Love it.

The space had a bit of a tumultuous yet fortuitous beginning. Set to launch in the winter of 2012, their opening was postponed due to building damage from Hurricane Sandy. With construction delays making it impossible to open their own doors until May of 2013, the leadership team sprung into action and took over an open space down the hall and created a CSI pop-up, offering workstations to displaced non-profits and social organizations in Manhattan. Their actions spoke volumes and the interim space had a host of co-working organizations not to mention events and programs happening nightly.

If that didn’t leave a lasting enough impression, the CSI team created a visual storyboard in the form of murals across the walls of the space depicting the CSI mission and vision that ended in a simple call to action. Join us. These thoughtfully crafted initial months no doubt played a part in the success of their official launch – selling out of offices in the first month and well ahead of membership projections.

Attention to detail was a theme that resonated throughout the entire visit, whether it was the deliberate layout of the space to facilitate passing interactions, or the ‘community animators’ on staff who are responsible for the social and psychological experience of the space – everything had a purpose.

Dave admits that convincing the Toronto CSI team that this was the right space and time for a US expansion was no easy task – he still has the email he sent to Eli Malinsky, Director of Strategy and Partnerships at CSI, that started this whole adventure posted in his office. Although now, walking through the space and seeing the member companies board filled with names there are no limits to the impact this new addition can have on the New York and global communities it serves.

Next time you’re in New York be sure to check out their events calendar and plan to stop in to see the space. You won’t regret it!

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