Barnes & Noble

In the 1990s, specialty superstores replaced small businesses all over Orange County, CA. Barnes & Noble, the big-box bookseller, altered our local landscape and dominated the national marketplace.

By 1995, technological advancements made the World Wide Web accessible to everyone, allowing Amazon, an online bookstore, to sell books internationally without real estate. Businesses with addresses were forced to adapt or fail.


These economic shifts impacted the sustainability of bookstores and many other community anchors. The problem was less about books and more about place. People were searching for places to connect, but we were losing our social environments.


This almost irreparable collision of commerce and culture inspired us to dedicate our mission to building community through creative and cultural placemaking.

Orange County, California

Orange County, CA (p. 3,010,232), home to 34 diverse and underserved cities, is deprived of creative and cultural opportunities.

This lack of accessibility and resources not only hinders lifelong learning but more importantly it inhibits community building for low, middle, and high income neighborhoods.


With a 77% Latino population and an average income per resident of $16,345, the city of Santa Ana (p. 334,236) has only one library and zero bookshops. Ten miles away, Newport Beach (p. 86,813) has an 80% Caucasian population whose average income more than quadruples Santa Ana, has one bookshop, but not a single cultural center or gallery despite being one of the richest cities in the country.


Our problem: the traditional business model for bookshops, cultural centers, and galleries is no longer sustainable, especially in contrast with digital technologies. Additionally, the dramatic increase in property values has compounded the issue resulting in unrealistic rental rates.


IKEA is known for their flatpack model. Because of this innovative idea, everyone can build a table.

The concept inspired us. What if we designed ready-to-assemble plans for building cultural centers? What if we developed creative tools to guide community leaders during the placemaking process?


We concluded: Building a business should be as easy as building a table. There are two simple questions: Why do you need a table? What needs to be on that table so that people can use it?

Placemaking Shoebox

Challenging the traditional business model for bookshops, cultural centers, and galleries, we designed the multipurpose Placemaking Shoebox.

Forgoing costly programming and extensive acreage, our all-in-one community keepsake is low-risk with high reward.


We opened our first Center in the City of Orange (p. 140,504) whose population is 45% Caucasian and 39% Latino with an average income per resident of $35,804. It features a bookstore, gallery, lecture hall, workshop and café all designed within an adaptable 2,000 square feet.


With a flexible format and interchangeable parts we leverage customizable online and offline opportunities with a deliberate budget and versatile staff. All interdisciplinary programs are also recorded for podcast and archived as a free educational resource.


Through storytelling, we synergize the creative efforts of individuals to provide essential tools for cultural and civic enrichment—empathy, opportunity, and a collaborative network.


Our goal: curate curiosity.


Bowers Museum, Orange County’s largest museum, measures at 158,008 square feet with a five million dollar budget and an estimated attendance of 150,000. Bowers Museum is a castle compared to our Placemaking Shoebox.

However, in our first year, we welcomed more than 182 daily visitors with online opportunities reaching over 1.2 million participants worldwide.


Through strategic collaborations with local and national academic institutions, public-private corporations, and nonprofits, we also produced 16 gallery exhibitions, 51 podcast episodes, and 152 educational programs. all within a $100,000 budget.


Traditional bookshops, cultural centers, and galleries are often rigid with artwork, books, and history static on walls. Our Placemaking Shoebox is accessible, adaptable, and provides the community with opportunities to participate in the creative process through cultural projects.


It is also the first ever Ready-To-Assemble Cultural Center that is designed to evolve and fit the need of underrepresented cities across the country.