SF BUSINESS TIMES | May 04, 2017
Innovation: Sustainable and “green” retail design
Years in Alameda: 28
Principal: Andres Grechi
Alameda favorite:“My wife and I can walk from our house to dinner and a movie in the east end. It gives an urban feeling to the town.”
For both MBH Architects and Principal Andres Grechi, Alameda was supposed to be a temporary home.
When Grechi, a native of Italy, moved to the United States in 1981 for architecture school, he bunked with a friend who happened to live in Alameda.
“I was going to stay until got I place in San Francisco. I’m from Rome, it seemed natural to move to the big city,” he says. “After a week, I thought, ‘I love this place!’”
While Grechi spent years commuting to downtown San Francisco for work, he and his wife remained in Alameda, raising two daughters on the island.
In 1989, when two East Bay architects – one of them an Alameda resident – banded together to start their own firm, they rented extra space from The Engineering Enterprise, founded in Alameda in 1974.
“It was just going to be a temporary solution until we got our feet on the ground,” says Grechi, who joined MBH Architects – also known as MBH Arch – in 1997. “Over time we realized how easy it was to conduct business here, how central we were. We’re right in the middle of the Bay Area, and the financial climate for business was very friendly. It still is. Rents here are nothing like downtown San Francisco.”
In 1991, MBH Arch moved to the Marina Village neighborhood, and has since relocated twice more to accommodate its growing staff. With the number of employees quadrupling in the last twenty years, MBH Arch now ranks the seventh highest earning architectural firm in the Bay Area and seventh internationally in retail architecture.
MBH Arch has projects all over the world and a lengthy name-dropper list of clients, including: Tesla, Tiffany & Co., Georgio Armani, Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, Levi’s, West Elm and Whole Foods. The firm is also known for award-winning hospitality and high-density residential design.
Alameda has several MBH Arch-designed projects, including Target at Alameda Landing Shopping Center, Peet’s Coffee & Tea, several office remodels and a library for the Alameda Unified School District. A pro bono project included designing a new food bank location in the city.
“The food bank has been delivering 30,000 meals a month out of two trailers,” Grechi says. “We surveyed the space, came up with a design and are helping look for funding.”
Giving back to the community comes naturally to MBH Arch. Instead of throwing a party to celebrate the firm’s 25th anniversary in 2014, they offered a paid day off for employees to volunteer for the Alameda Point Collaborative. The non-profit transformed military housing at the former Naval Air Station into homes for more than 350 adults and children formerly living on the streets, and offers job training through its retail plant nursery and urban farm project.
“We spent two days helping rebuild homes and working at the farm, painting, moving manure, weeding,” Grechi says. “It was the most fun we’ve had in a long time. Employees still talk about it.”
Photos courtesy of Misha Bruk