Soy, once relegated to health food stores and vegan pantries, has gone mainstream. Showing up in everything from food to oils to even plastics and cosmetics, soy has become one of the biggest stars of the agricultural world. For Pharmavite, the makers of SoyJoy bars, the plant’s growing name recognition made it the right time to create the SoyJoy Tour Experience at its manufacturing facilities in Santa Clarita, California.
Aimed at educating both school children and adult visitors about the bar-making process, as well as the many uses of soy, the SoyJoy Tour Experience combines interactive stations with colorful interiors to create a memorable learning experience.
Pharmavite called on global design firm HOK, which had worked previously on its corporate headquarters, a later expansion in Northridge, Calif., as well as a number of other company-related projects over the past decade.
“They were really making a market push for the SoyJoy brand in the U.S., and they wanted to share what soy means as a product,” says Brett Shwery, senior vice president, HOK. “The idea was to have an educational element—a presentation about soy, teaching children about the health benefits of soy, having them interact with soybeans through crafts, and the facility still could be used for visitors to see how it runs.”
HOK was able to use the existing space and corridors to design a pathway for the tour, which includes the step-by-step making and baking of SoyJoy bars. Visitors are welcomed into the arrival area, or Pod, which opens into different portions for learning, gathering and creating.
The experience opens with a brief presentation in the gathering area, where children can also see the various stages of a soybean’s growth. The creating area is home to picnic tables and a variety of crafts, while the learning area features a mock kitchen with displays of various soy products.
“The concept of the Pod came from the shape of a soybean pod, using the Pod as different cubbies. The middle section, the gathering pod, has a drop-down screen for the introductory presentation. You’re sitting on the green pod chairs, which are comfortable ottomans that adults can also use, so it’s not just built around children.”
From the Pod, visitors can walk through connecting corridors to “experience zones” to see the SoyJoy bars in progress. The bar wrappers feature vibrant colors and graphics, which came into play when painting the different rooms in the zones.
“All of the walls were painted specifically using the palette of the bars, with their great designs and colors,” says Shwery. “We used the ones that made sense for the tour, from kitchen to oven to cooling to the road, because those areas have the connotation of color.”
The kitchen walls are a warm yellow, with black-and-white checkerboard floor and stainless steel trim. Outside, affixed to the ceiling, are an oversized spoon, mixing bowl and chef’s hat created by Warner Brothers. The oven room, with its 100-lineal-foot oven, is painted red. The cooling room is blue and a long, green hall represents the field. At this point, the floor is painted to resemble a road, which leads to doors that represent the back of a semi-truck, where the tour ends as the bars are shipped out.
In an unique twist, the floors were all made of poured epoxy. “We were concerned because epoxy is a lab or manufacturing floor material, and it’s usually done in gray or neutral,” says Shwery. “Looking at the vibrancy of the colors, it shows the flexibility of what the product can do.”
Each cooking and preparation area features a flat-screen monitor explaining the particular step of the process. “Fun Facts” decals with interesting tidbits of information are also affixed to the windows at a lower eye level so that children can read them. Step stools are positioned outside of the rooms so that all youngsters can see the process in action.
“It was important for us to understand the scale of a child,” says Shwery. “We wanted to bring it down so that they could experience things at their level.” That meant mounting the decals in a scaled range of 36 to 42 inches, rather than the standard 5 feet. The Pod area is also scaled lower, but the 18-inch height of the area’s chairs and benches—including Pebble soft seating by Allermuir—is standard and adult-friendly, while also being suitable for children.
In addition to creating an educational resource, HOK designed a colorful, visual tour that makes people smile, which was at the heart of SoyJoy’s mission.
“The idea is for people to be happy, open the bar, experience the product and enjoy it,” Shwery explains. “It was important to translate that to the design of the space without being overly cutesy. You have to pull back from being too kitsch and over-the-top. We had a visioning session before we began design, and that gave us a great starting point. The core concept was the pod analogy for the gathering place and taking somebody through the baking process of a food product. We had to stick with those analogies; otherwise, we weren’t keeping on theme.”
HOK’s extensive background in sustainable design was also carried over to the SoyJoy Tour Experience. The millwork is all made of reclaimed wood, and the Allermuir seating is made with reclaimed and recycled fabric. The ceilings were kept white, and the design team relied on existing lighting as much as possible, adding only a few additional fixtures or modifying existing ones. Low-VOC paints were specified for the entire project, and the epoxy floors provide a durable, low-maintenance solution.
“The sustainability came in using what we had,” Shwery notes. “This was done on an economical budget and in a cherished, hand-holding way of not overdoing the costs. There was very limited remodeling to the core services of the building. Our team designed the built-in benches; we painted the picnic tables and put laminate tops on them. The pods were one of the more expensive pieces that we bought, but there’s not a lot more furniture than that.”
The SoyJoy Tour Experience was six months in the making and opened just over a year ago. It was a different undertaking for HOK, says Shwery. “It got us out of our everyday comfort zone of things we typically design. It was about experiential design, not just making something look great. It was about making fun and having fun, and we all had fun doing it.”