SpaceLab’s co-founder and CEO Karen Burton is an educator, historian, and diversity and inclusion advocate in the architecture and construction industry. Along with her colleague Saundra Little, AIA, NOMA, she founded Noir Design Parti, a Knight Arts Challenge winning project that chronicles the projects and career journeys of Michigan’s African American Architects. On Feb. 17, an interview with Karen will air on Michigan Radio where she will introduce listeners to Donald White, AIA, the first Black graduate of the University of Michigan’s College of Architecture and Michigan’s and Alabama’s first licensed Black architect.
Karen and Saundra will discuss the role of Black architects in Detroit’s design history to students in the Detroit Area Pre-College Engineering Program (DAPCEP) on Feb. 15, and on Feb. 21 at 5:30 PM, they’ll lead a panel discussion with five of Detroit’s leading architects at The University of Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.
Karen will also be a panelist on the topic “Revitalizing ‘Main Street'” at the 10th Annual Detroit Impact Conference, the flagship event of the Detroit Revitalization and Business (DR&B) Club at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Tash Moore, head blogger for Detroit Startup Week and founder of Catch-313 social media agency interview SpaceLab’s CEO Karen Burton on Medium.
Tash Moore: Thank you so much for chatting with me? You run SpaceLab Detroit, the coworking space downtown geared toward architecture, community development, and like-minded firms. How did you discover coworking?
Karen Burton: Thanks for the opportunity, Tash. I opened my first design and drafting business years ago in Flint. I started in a 70 square foot office in an incubator just north of downtown called the Oak Business Center, which is still operating today. There were a variety of businesses there — professional services and retail with a conference room to share — but at the time everyone seemed pretty disconnected. I thought there could be a better way for businesses to share resources and collaborate.
I see [Detroit] as a top-tier entrepreneurial hub for the country. There are so many resources available and a wealth of opportunities for innovation. – Karen Burton
Freelancing as an architectural designer, the traditional “third places” like coffee shops and libraries didn’t always fit my needs or my colleagues’. We’d need a place to print construction documents and large tables to lay them out for review when meeting with clients. There were many of us solopreneurs who wanted to collaborate on larger projects, and we needed somewhere to come together. The idea for our design and construction-focused coworking space began to develop some time ago, but the timing was perfect in 2015 after I left a job. The following year, my husband Bobby left his, and we decided to pursue the SpaceLab concept together.
TM: With associated partnerships with NOMA Detroit and AIA Detroit, your space really highlights inclusion in a field that doesn’t showcase as much diversity nationally. Besides our majority-black population, what else do you believe makes Detroit special?
KB: I’m proud of my connections with those organizations, as well as with NAWIC and NABWIC, the women in construction groups. We want to highlight that professionals of color and women working in these fields that are so-called non-traditional for us are just as educated and qualified and can lead and work alongside majority companies to get the projects done. SpaceLab is a diverse shared office space with members of all backgrounds and age groups. We’re thankful that people choose to grow their businesses with us.