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Bringing Creativity Back Like It’s 1958
One Giant Leap Room

Unique seating in the One Giant Leap Room welcomes open minds. Photo Credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett

The Houston Technology Center

The Houston Technology Center is housed on the second floor in Building 35, so up-and-coming entrepreneurs can easily work with innovative thinkers at Johnson Space Center. Photo Credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett

› View more images in the Creativity 1958 gallery

There’s a new take on an old building in town, and it’s guaranteed to get your creative juices flowing. Building 35—a new collaboration space dubbed 1958—is part acceleration center, part escape from the monotony of doing things the way you’ve done them before—just because.

Borrowing the concept from another collaborative, co-working space for software techies in Chicago named 1871, JSC’s 1958 got its special moniker because that is the year NASA officially opened its doors and started working on a wild, bold vision: human spaceflight. At JSC, we are fond of saying statements like “Think outside the box” to encourage innovation and new ways of doing business.

“But then we go right into the same physical boxes every day when we try to do that,” said Joel Walker, JSC director of Center Operations, “so it’s kind of trying to help break that up.”

Building 35’s facelift into a trendy, modern space where people can work and meet freely breaks from the standard conference room culture we are so often exposed to in our environment.

“Some of the things we do today that bug me … conference rooms are mine,” Walker said. “I can kick you out anytime because it’s mine. So we have lots of unused space. The idea here is that it’s community space. Anybody can use it; we don’t reserve the whole thing for anybody at any time, so there’s always the ability to go over and just show up and do stuff.”

There are various rooms one can escape to in 1958, and they all have their own themes and idiosyncrasies. But one constant throughout the enormous space is that it’s … fun. There’s an abundance of color, shapes and surprises that one normally doesn’t see in a government place of work.

“We put in tons of whiteboard space,” Walker said. “We did lots of work with color and shape so that the chairs aren’t all blue, and you come in and get a feel that this is a different kind of space.”

What you will not see in 1958 is what you’ve come to think of as “the norm.”

“It’s supposed to challenge what you think the norm is,” Walker said. “The rooms have different names that don’t always make sense. We have an Ernest Tubb room, who’s an old, old country star from Texas. And one room is dedicated to him. Why? No particular reason. Just to make you ask that question. And we have little quotes around, pictures and things like that that to make you just kind of scratch your head and try to piece it together. Sometimes there’s a reason, sometimes not.”

The Ernest Tubb Room seats three comfortably and features teleconference capabilities. So if you want to escape the normal beige and blue while conducting business over the phone, that is the place to be. Other neat rooms include the Chromatic room, which can hold six to eight people and is eminently colorful, with rolling whiteboards where teams can dream up ideas.

Another useful area is the Cube Garden, which offers functional, free cube spaces that cannot be reserved. Bring your laptop and cell phone and do what you need to do to get the job done. The Cube Garden is also useful for groups trying to attract new business to NASA who don’t have an easy, quick way to get occupants desk space.

“What I hope we get to is to be more flexible and nimble,” Walker said. “If you’re going to work with outside folks, they don’t want to wait six months to set something up. I’d love to be able to say, hey, I have a project I’d like you to start working on … so on Monday report to this building in this space, and start working from there. You grab your laptop, a box of personal items or folders, and you go and you’re up and running.”

And as with all new or refurbished buildings at JSC, 1958 encourages sustainable working.

“We want you to recycle,” Walker said. “Use what you need, but don’t waste stuff. We have free guitar picks, and they’re punched out of old hotel room keys (the credit card kind). So drop a hotel room key down, come back and take a guitar pick. Things like that to just kind of break it up a bit.”

The rooms are also lower tech, so there’s not as much of a pull on resources—or the common frustrations that come when trying to get projection screens or fancy equipment to work.

Building 35 is a place where people can go to brainstorm new ideas and projects, away from the sometimes stifling corporate element. Conference rooms in 1958 are designed to have no true “head of the table,” so it’s more conducive to real collaboration. The environment is also more easygoing, so if you want to bring donuts and coffee and have a meeting in the small café room, that’s fine (as long as you clean up after yourself).

But perhaps most importantly, 1958 welcomes the real movers and shakers of the spaceflight community to come and create.

“The other piece is HTC, the Houston Technology Center,” Walker said. “One of the things I hope it does is ‘accelerate our acceleration center,’ if you will. The HTC is upstairs on the second floor, and we’ve told them that any time you guys want to come down or bring clients to meet with JSC people, feel free use that space to have those kind of meetings. I’m hoping it helps kick start that a little bit.”

If you’d like to use 1958 by yourself or with a small team, just swing on by to Building 35. To learn more about using the collaborative space, visit: http://open.nasa.gov/1958/

All are welcome to come and create in this special area. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be just the thing to help ignite that next giant leap.
Catherine Ragin Williams