Two years ago, Cards Against Humanity rented a storefront pharmacy in Logan Square to use as our office space.
When we moved in, it was just me and Eli, and we invited our friends to come and work with us. A lot of amazing people came and went, projects were started and finished, and the office started to grow.
Greg won two Apple Design Awards for his work on Ridiculous Fishing and Threes, and our office wound up on Apple.com. I hosted 50 hours of Kickstarter Office Hours. Brent started an incredible photography project. Polygon wrote a feature about the office, and the office was written up on Kotaku and the PA Report (“a somewhat shabby, rundown building with scuffs and scrapes as the only decoration on the walls.”)
Cards Against Humanity also started to grow pretty quickly. We hired Jenn, Trin, Claire, Emily, and Alex, and between us and the other independent people co-working in our space, we grew to thirteen desks. We started holding weekly playtests and events in our conference room. We launched a board game contest and filmed it in there. We also shipped two expansions, the Bigger Blacker Box, a Black Friday prank, a new website and store, we sent 1.2 million mystery gifts to 100,000 people, and we gave a bunch of money to charity. We had a couple of intense launches.
But since the end of last year, we’ve been strained for resources. For a while now, we’ve have fifteen people sharing ten desks (last week we built three more). We only have one conference room and one bathroom, and most of the time, the hot water doesn’t work.
For the last six months, we’ve been looking for a new home for Cards Against Humanity and our friends.
To find the building, I asked Harper Reed how he found his great office for Modest, and he referred me to Dan Lyne and Jarrett Annenberg from CBRE (“They’re squares, but they’re our kind of squares.”) CBRE dug up dozens of spaces for us to look at, and about a month ago we found the right one: a 12,000 sq/ft warehouse space in Bucktown, off of the soon-to-be-completed 606.
The space is split into two buildings; we’re going to open up the party wall and join them together. Over the years, the property has been a coffee roaster, an auto shop, a flower store, and a tool rental business. But now it’s our home. We bought it, and closed the deal today.
As you can see from the photos above, the building is in rough shape. We need to pour new floors, replace the ceilings, insulate the walls, and replace the windows and doors. There’s no heat, air conditioning, plumbing, or electrical (the mechanical units have been stripped and all of the copper electrical wiring and plumbing has been stolen) and there’s enormous amount of junk that we need to demolish and haul away.
But underneath all of that mess, the foundation of the building is beautiful, all old Chicago brick and bow truss ceilings.
We’ve got a long process ahead of us to design and build an office in this space, but we’re lucky enough to get to work with von Weiss Associates and our incredibly patient project manager Jeff Kroll.
When we’re done, I imagine this space as a kind of counterpoint 1871, “Chicago’s entrepreneurial hub for digital startups.” 1871 has an Intelligentsia inside that sells coffee. We’ll have a kitchen, with an oven where we can bake bread for each other. 1871 was built by venture capitalists. Our space is being built by artists. 1871 starts businesses. We’ll start projects.
I’m really fond of this talk by Adrian Holovaty:
In 1889, a few years before Chicago’s world fair, Paris held an Exposition Universelle. It was a big deal — 32 million people visited! — and its main attraction was the brand-new Eiffel Tower, formally introduced at the event. At 984 feet, it was the tallest man-made structure in the world, a position it held for more than 40 years. You might imagine how exciting it was for people to witness something so tall, in an era when the tallest man-made structure in a town was probably a church steeple.
Back in Chicago four years later, [Chicago world fair architect Daniel Burnham] and his team were plotting: how could their World’s Fair showcase something more impressive than the Eiffel Tower — something that would “out-Eiffel Eiffel”?
The obvious answer was to build something taller. If they could build something 1000 feet tall, or 1100 or 1200, surely it would be more impressive than what the French did. But to Burnham’s credit, he refused to play by those rules, pushing his engineers to come up with something genuinely new.
One engineer on Burnham’s team had an idea: instead of a stationary tower, why not build something that moved? Something that people could ride around in, that was still tall but not tall for the sake of being taller than the Eiffel. The engineer’s name was George Ferris; you see where this is going.
So Ferris and team built it: the world’s first Ferris wheel. It was a huge hit, providing great views of the city plus a sense of danger (“This thing can’t possibly be safe, can it?”). People all over the world immediately copied the idea. Even today, there are parts of the world where Ferris wheels are called “Chicago wheels.”
Here’s an important detail about the Ferris wheel. Its height was only 264 feet — just over a quarter of the height of the Eiffel Tower. But it was still a huge success, because of how different it was. Instead of playing by somebody else’s rules — taller equals better — Burnham, Ferris and team dared to change the rules.
I want to create a space where we can live by our values of hard work, artistic integrity, kindness, and collaboration, and help out the people around us. We’ll have cheap desks for dozens of people, a kitchen, a screen printing studio, a stage for live comedy, a livestreaming and podcasting studio (the future home of Giant Bomb Chicago), and a mailing room for people to ship Kickstarter projects; all shared by the people who work with us, and anyone working on an independent project in town.
I’m tired of Chicago trying to build a taller Eiffel Tower. Let’s build a Ferris Wheel and see what happens.