Architecture Team Creates Playful Design for Market Street Prototyping Festival

Woodshed Collaborative to present Active Rest, a public climbing structure set to add vibrancy to Market Street


Doron Serban, undergraduate coordinator of emerging technologies in the School of Architecture. Courtesy of Woodshed Collaborative.

This month, the heavily trafficked Apple store in Union Square will have competition for the attention of passersby: A large-scale architectural climbing structure designed by a team that includes an Academy of Art University faculty member, an alum and a current student.

Doron Serban, undergraduate coordinator of emerging technologies in the School of Architecture, plus Brynn Brothers (Interior Architecture & Design, B.F.A. 2013) and M.Arch student Chris Kelusak along with Serban’s friend Josh Cabot - are Woodshed Collaborative, the team behind Active Rest, a winning entry to the Market Street Prototyping Festival.

The structure, which features upwards of 1,500 pieces of plywood and LED lights, is essentially a 144-square-foot jungle gym that beckons pedestrians to climb aboard.

The festival, which takes place April 9–11, is being sponsored by Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the San Francisco Planning Department, and the Knight Foundation, and features nearly 50 structures installed along a two-mile stretch of Market Street. Though their viewing time is brief, the project is part of a larger look at envisioning a more pedestrian-friendly, vibrant future for San Francisco’s oft blighted main strip.


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Courtesy of Woodshed Collaborative.

Serban, who also co-owns a CrossFit gym in the East Bay, described the structure as sort of a campusing board that allows participants of all ages and sizes to scale the surface without harness or equipment. Each piece of wood is digitally cut, sandpapered and coated with polyurethane for a smooth, splinter-free surface. Though it is a piece of public art, it’s really more playful than precious.

When asked about vulnerability to vandalism and harm, Serban wasn’t worried. He equates the structure with children’s playgrounds, which tend to be respected even in urban spaces.

“I don’t want people to think of it purely [as] an iconic object, but a playground in the middle of the street,” he said.

The concept combined Serban’s love of climbing with design, but he also listed many other quirky, potential uses for the five-ton structure, including a soap box, place of meditation and meeting place. The project’s official motto is: “Wouldn’t you rather play on the bus stop instead of on your phone at the bus stop?”

Serban was notified in October that Active Rest was one of 50 projects selected from a pool of more than 300 entries. After the initial excitement, the reality of hard work kicked in. City permits needed to be pulled, so Serban enlisted the help of individuals at the architecture firms Gensler and ARUP and Partners. Fortunately, several Academy architecture students volunteered to help with the fabrication, which is taking place in the workshop of the School of Architecture on Brannan Street.

“It’s one thing to teach it and another thing to get students to actually make it - for them to see how collaborative the effort really is,” he said.

Though the festival organizers provided $2,000 in seed money, Serban estimated a need for an additional $5,000 to pay for extra wood and lights, more than half of which has already been raised through an Indiegogo campaign.

Individuals who donate to the project receive a bonus: They can have their name inscribed into a piece of wood.

Serban said his team plans to document the experience, from the opening day party on April 9 to the varied reactions of people passing the structure at different times of day.

“We plan to have people on-site the whole time, including in the evenings, to gauge people’s reactions. The ultimate goal is to learn from this experience and to reproduce this piece in the future,” he said.

At the end of the festival, some of the prototypes may be made into permanent installations. As for Active Rest, Serban isn’t positive of its future, though a local climbing gym has expressed interest in acquiring it.

Serban said that his wife, Gabriela Sotomayor, who is director of the Academy’s School of Art History, has become the project’s social critic and enjoys studying the lasting historical impact of public art installations such as Active Rest.

“‘Art is the human experience,’ she always says,” Serban said.

For more information on Active Rest, please visit

For more information on the festival, please visit