- Fiza Pirani The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Atlanta- and New York-based architecture firm Kurani had three weeks to take blank Google conference rooms and transform them into a cutting edge, multi-modal learning space.
That space, located at Google Headquarters in Mountain View, California, is now home to the first-ever Howard West campus, a collaborative pilot program between Google and the historically black institution, Howard University, to address the lack of black engineers in the tech community.
“It was all hands on deck,” founder Danish Kurani, 32, who grew up in Fayetteville, said about the Herculean effort behind his firm’s three-week turnaround to get the pilot program off the ground.
The architectural firm designs learning spaces and partners with schools, organizations, and companies looking to build the future of education.
After one week of designing, Kurani transformed two levels of blank, white meeting rooms into a micro college campus — complete with an academic lounge, kitchen, student center, faux quad, gym, media room, library, faculty office and an executive suite used as a high-pressure mock interview room.
“We wanted to give them the best of both worlds: the professional vibe and collegiate one,” Kurani said.
The classrooms have distinct micro-environments that serve different purposes, including an area for structured lectures and training, another for one-on-one help sessions and an academic lounge for collaborative work and solo study.
As part of the program, students will also go through high-pressure mock interviews in a skyscraper-style executive suite designed by Kurani, which features a giant window overlooking the city.
But some of Kurani’s favorite areas are upstairs, where the aesthetic and function is geared toward maintaining the fun, college experience.
One such area is the media room, designed as a space for students to unwind and bond with each other and with Google employees.
Recently, Google faculty joined Howard West students in the media room after hours to catch the first game of the NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors, who reclaimed the championship title Monday.
Another popular Howard hangout is the indoor quad. Kurani transformed generic white-walled, carpeted spaces into a grassy campus quad surrounded by brick and stone to give the students the feeling of being outdoors.
The Howard West campus also brings the Howard spirit to Google through the school's color palette, logos, and mascot as well as historic photographs from the school’s renowned past, Kurani said.
While Google’s official colors are displayed in classrooms, the incorporation of Howard University’s spirit throughout the campus signals that this is their home, too.
Kurani was also behind Google’s Code Next Lab, a computer science innovation lab aimed at 8th-12th graders, mainly black and Latino minority students, in October 2016.
"These kids think the cool thing to be is the next LeBron or Jay Z, but no one says, ‘I want to be the next guy to invent something or create something to help people,’” Kurani said.
Kurani is also designing learning spaces in New York City for Black Girls Code, another program created to empower young black women to join the male-dominated field of tech.
These programs, he said, show kids how many people of color have influenced computer science and technology and gives them the chance to see themselves among the lineage of barrier-breakers in tech.
Twenty-six Howard computer science students were chosen as part of the pilot program to spend the next few months at Google’s Silicon Valley Headquarters, where they will work alongside Google employees, take computer science courses and immerse themselves in the tech capital of the world.
"Howard West is now the centerpiece of Google’s effort to recruit more Black software engineers from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) -- and to make them feel right at home here in Mountain View,” Bonita Stewart, vice president of partnerships for Google, said in a March press release.
According to the company’s 2016 diversity index, black employees account for just 1 percent of Google’s technology employees and only 2 percent of its overall employees.
Howard West is on track to come out of the pilot as an ongoing program and Google plans to expand to other HBCUs by next year, a Google spokesperson told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.