Photography by Christopher Bagley
EPACENTER: East Palo Alto Youth Arts & Music Center

EPACENTER Youth Arts & Music Center marks an important turning point for community-led design. The center will offer outstanding services in arts education and personal empowerment for young people in East Palo Alto, fostering the creative energy of a diverse local population which has experienced decades of disenfranchisement. The new building is designed for longevity and resilience, with adaptive spaces that can evolve with the organization and remain responsive to community needs and the changing cultural environment.

Ultimately, the building is imagined as a new type of “icon” – a striking and beautiful structure which reflects the lived experience of those who use the space and helped to create it.


Photography by Christopher Bagley
Key info
Design Architect
Executed by WHY Architecture Workshop Inc.
East Palo Alto, CA
  • Completed 2020
  • 25,000 sq. ft.
Architect, Landscape Designer, Furniture Designer

To build trust and foster impactful collaboration with local residents, WHY embarked on a highly unusual and immersive year-long engagement process which created strong foundations for the project’s development. That process – which included workshops, site visits, and ongoing conversations with organizers and residents – was instrumental in shaping the concept and program. With the collaboration and guidance of the community, WHY was able to tailor the design to the specific needs and aspirations of young people and cultural leaders from East Palo Alto. The project is funded by The John and Marcia Goldman Foundation, a prominent grant-making organization in the Bay Area dedicated to youth-oriented art and education initiatives.

Photography by Christopher Bagley
Photography by Henrik Kam

The village-like structure is designed to provide meaningful experiences for individuals of all ages and backgrounds, combining different artistic disciplines under one roof. The interconnected creative spaces include visual art and dance studios, a 200-seat black box theater, music practice rooms, a professional recording studio, and a digital media lab, among other facilities. At the heart of the building is a prominent public café, ideally suited for ad-hoc performances and events, and a gallery space will showcase exhibitions of student work.

Photography by Christopher Bagley

The dynamic between public and private areas is an important part of the design, providing a safe space where students can receive mentorship, counselling, and experiment freely – but also exhibit their skills and engage with the public. Another striking aspect of the building is the interplay between outdoor areas and light-filled interiors. A curved breezeway serves as the primary circulation space for the upper level, and also acts as a viewing platform for watching performances in the landscaped amphitheater. The exterior spaces are an integral part of the site as a whole, and the building’s protective, horseshoe-shaped footprint creates a central courtyard which acts as an “outdoor room” – a sheltered space which is simultaneously open to the elements.

Photography by Christopher Bagley

The building has achieved LEED Platinum, making it one of the most sustainable buildings in East Palo Alto. Green design features include an innovative climate control and water filtering conservation system, and several of the building’s eye-catching features are designed with sustainability in mind – most prominently, the colorful shingle tiles made from salvaged industrial materials.

Landscape Design
  • Hood Design Studio Inc.
Structural Engineer
  • Forell Elsesser Engineers
MEP Engineer
  • Taylor Engineering
Civil Engineer
  • Sherwood Design Engineers
Lighting Consultant
  • Atelier Ten
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