Guest Post by Laura Morton, AIA, SSOE Group

Planning makerspaces is emerging to become front and center for many civic leaders and developers as the nature of work has changed post-pandemic.

Extended quarantines led many people to abandon their 9 to 5 schedule, causing shifts in the labor market. With the sharp rise in people working outside of the physical office from flexible locations, there is a need for transitive spaces and innovation hubs that can function as workplaces, maximizing flexibility as well as adaptability with both workspace and time.

Creatively placed in the right market, a makerspace is a popular amenity, especially if it is strategically sited. In fact, with makerspaces, location is everything. Such a space must be carefully considered, accounting for a myriad of factors such as commutability, parking, and bike/pedestrian access. Makerspaces provide a venue for socializing and networking, while allowing workers to maintain a flexible schedule. They can be open 24/7, allowing occupants to work whenever necessary. They offer a replacement for traditional offices that meets the needs of the modern hybrid/flexible work landscape.

Here are some insights from the successful development of the Pittsburgh Yards makerspace in Atlanta, Georgia.


The new Pittsburgh Yards shared business and community space has the benefit of a prime location and expansive site along the Atlanta beltline. The property is situated on a generous 30 acres and is steeped in history. Land that once served as agricultural fields after the Civil War, then evolved into an industrial-focused shipping facility as the railways and roadways expanded, is now serving the surrounding communities in a new way.

The mission for this site was to create something in a prime location that remained affordable and accessible to people in the Pittsburgh neighborhoods and surrounding areas, who are given priority to rent the spaces. The new makerspace project includes a 70,000-square-foot shared area comprised of 101 individual tenant spaces of various sizes called “maker modules” and an amphitheater in the center for community use. One wing accommodates industrial use for loud machinery, while other spaces offer quiet areas for business and artist studios. The project also features several small, affordable apartment units and an office for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which funded the project.

The new makerspace project includes a 70,000-square-foot shared area comprised of 101 individual tenant spaces of various sizes called “maker modules” and an amphitheater in the center for community use. Photo: Brian Reeves

Aesthetics reveal the innovative vibe pervading the space. The design team preserved the trusses original to the building – these were no longer functional but provided a unique, intriguing aesthetic. This area is known as the “whale skeleton” due to the visually striking rib-like structure provided by the trusses. Branding also factored into the design as exemplified by a building on the site called the Nia Building. “Nia” is a Swahili word meaning “goal or purpose.” An external yard area with 20 shipping containers will become additional maker or small business spaces.

The makerspaces themselves range from 100 to 400 square feet. Ceilings were intentionally left open, and the dividing walls between the units are designed with a height of 10 feet. Each wing has additional privacy pods with ceilings for acoustical considerations. Durable wall paneling has a unique texture and can simply be unscrewed and moved around – easily and fast, by design – to reconfigure the modules. Each module is secure with its own lockable sliding door system. The building also has a shared meeting room that doubles as a classroom with seating areas and tables. Rent includes access to these shared spaces and a food/coffee area for tenants. The project involved a five-year timeline, with the first occupants moving in late 2020/early 2021. The typical opening fanfare was understandably muted by the pandemic.

The design team preserved the trusses original to the building — these were no longer functional but provided a unique, intriguing aesthetic. This area is known as the “whale skeleton” due to the visually striking structure provided by the trusses. Photo: Brian Reeves


The pandemic generated an increased focus on the importance of flexibility in one’s work environment. By integrating flexibility into its design, the building can rapidly change and grow over time to accommodate inevitably changing needs. Moveable internal walls and panelized construction allow nearly instantaneous internal re-configuration. Both management and the tenants alike are able to immediately reconfigure their spaces to create a more efficient work environment.

Even with this focus on flexibility, designers cannot anticipate all potentialities. Flexibility and adaptability must extend well into the lifecycle of a successful makerspace. At one point, the large shop space with outlets for woodcutting, saws, and other machinery intended for industrial use was leased by a tea maker. The tenant’s primary need was simply for a large space, so the tenant worked with management to adapt the space and make it more suitable for tea making than woodworking. Transitions like this are possible as the design team future-proofed the facility, subbing in gas and plumbing connections that might be needed in the future and designing the space as flexibly as possible.

Insight Into Overcoming Challenges

Successful adaptive reuse projects must be responsive to unique conditions. The original building had hundreds of linear feet of metal protrusions on the floor where cart tracks used to run, posing a tripping hazard. The solution to this unanticipated challenge was to fill the gaps with a cost-effective cement-like product that would not crack or shrink. This solution ensured safety while preserving the historical elements of the space.

Exposed ductwork and electrical systems had to be coordinated to be visually appealing since they would not be concealed by a ceiling. For the mechanical infrastructure, the decking remained primer gray and the conduit and ductwork stayed unfinished. This created an industrial feel that had an attractive aesthetic.

Ultimately, one of the most interesting aspects of the project was community engagement. The goal was not to “design in a vacuum” and assume architects and developers knew what was best for the neighborhood. Initial feedback and in-depth information were collected regarding residents’ hopes and opinions about what was needed in their neighborhood. Historical research was very insightful and guided project direction. Based on community feedback, displays throughout the building showcase successful former residents and local historical figures. Space is also allocated for local artists to exhibit their work.

Project leaders held monthly meetings with residents of the nearby Pittsburgh neighborhoods. The architects engaged with the people directly to discuss entrepreneurship and branding, factoring their input directly into project decisions. For example, the building name and branding color palette were voted on by the residents.

Project leaders designated a specific team to handle community engagement while an additional team handled the project management and construction side. After ensuring the community’s needs and desires were met, the second priority was to consider amenities and services that would be unique and lead to opportunities for growth. For example, to take advantage of outdoor space, several units were furnished with large roll-up doors that blend the inside and outside during clement weather. Those units are some of the most popular and were among the first to be rented. The modules are very small, but the overall acreage is very large. The goal was to provide as much flexible breakout space as possible, whether indoors or out.


The affordable improvements incorporated into this project will lead to equity for the neighborhood, facilitating access to opportunity. Project leaders were as concerned with the mission as with ROI. The nonprofit developers aimed for broad community improvement via the lower rents offered to the entrepreneurs. Unique amenities, flexibility of use, and a mission-driven design resulted in a successful, equitable makerspace.

Banner image: Stephen Cook

Laura Morton, AIA, is a Senior Architect and Senior Associate at SSOE Group, an internationally ranked architecture and engineering firm.