There is a 21st-century urban utopia taking shape in West Oakland. Housed in a compound of buildings spanning one city block, O2 Artisans’ Aggregate is a hotbed of makers, visionaries and craftspeople working in a collectively minded and environmentally progressive way.
O2 artisans include Juniper Ridge wilderness perfume makers, Irongrain steel fabrication, Perennial Restaurant, Ponderosa Tree Service, Lucas Ford Woodworking, Fusebox Kitchen, Atelier Dion ceramics, and more. O2 also is developing systems of large-scale reuse to combat the loss of resources in our society. By recycling industrial food waste into high-nutrient animal feed, developing an integrated aquaponic system that will grow veggies and fish symbiotically, and implementing a wide-ranging portfolio of other sustainable systems, O2 is an unprecedented hub for holistic urban development.
At O2’s heart is the renowned master builder, designer and ordained Buddhist priest Paul Discoe. A Bay Area luminary, Paul founded the design-build studio Joinery Structures and after retirement decided to devote his time to solving environmental issues through design. Paul seeks to build systems that will be passed on to enthusiastic entrepreneurs and like-minded environmental businesses. We are thrilled to welcome Paul as an East Bay Mini-Maker Faire presenter, and we caught up with him to find out more about O2 and his visions for sustainable, waste-free business.
Why are you creating O2?
I’ve become quite concerned about waste in our society. In my study of Buddhism, Dogen Zenji wrote about taking water from the stream; how after drinking half the dipper, he would return any leftover to rejoin the water. Buddhism in general teaches you not to correct the manipulation of the outside world, but to correct the manipulation of your inner world. Not wasting is one thing you can do that affects both inner and outer.
What are your goals for the O2 space?
The plan is not to have ideas that can be scaled up and centralized, but to have projects that can be multiplied many times in localized environments. My long-term goal is for this project to be internally self- sustaining, with an equal balance of things going in and things going out.
What is the most challenging aspect of this project and what have you learned?
My first non-wood building study was growing fish, and it has taken me eight years to figure out how to grow fish. Now, I’m working on how to feed fish without depleting ocean resources. The next hurdle is how to create an animal feed that uses industrial byproducts such as brewery grains, distillers grains, bran sifting from cereal manufacturing and tofu paste. I would like to learn about, refine and then expand these experimental projects, and I would like to find mentors and peers who are interested in doing the same thing.
What is your favorite project going on at the compound?
We are taking this so called “waste water” that we use for washing bathing, irrigating, cleaning, and renewing it in a way that does not use more energy than it saves, making the water available again. Because of current health rules and Americans general concern about water health, this will be a long learning curve.
How does this model work financially?
In a most literal way I’m investing in startups; making processes and infrastructure and hoping some young person will take these and run with them. Profits will come later as we work towards building sustainable models.
Do you feel that the change in Oakland is positive?
All change has to be positive, because change is the nature of reality, but we also must be careful not to undo some of the benefits of the previous way of doing things as we are going through these changes. I feel it’s important for Oakland in particular, to set aside a place for people to experiment with messy, dirty, noisy things and make and re-use objects for the local community. Otherwise we are destined to have everything imported from afar.
How would you describe the space in few words?
A graffiti artist wrote at our entrance “Sacred Ground” which may or not be the case, but I would like to see it move in that direction.
Come take advantage of a fantastic opportunity to hear more from this master maker, Paul Discoe, in our Magnolia Great Room on Sunday at 1:30 pm at the Faire. Tickets still available here: https://eastbaymakerfaire2017.eventbrite.com