As part of the current "sharing economy" revolution, coworking facilities have transformed the creative marketplace. Since 2005, when the first coworking space was founded in San Francisco, the popularity of working in a shared environment has taken off. Today, hundreds of coworking facilities exist in cities of varying sizes across the world, supporting small businesses ranging from app developers to furniture makers to recording studios. But how have they grown so quickly? It’s all in the community. WeWork, which owns a number of coworking spaces worldwide, sums it up as “a place you join as an individual, ‘me,’ but where you become part of a greater ‘we.'”
At this point, the potential benefits of coworking spaces are well known, so much so that they’re practically common sense. To start, coworking spaces promote casual encounters between employees of different fields, creating a forum in which to quickly bounce ideas back and forth. This turns the office into a collective brainstorming session helping to create quicker, more efficient solutions.
Greater interaction can also provide networking opportunities for businesses. Working in close proximity to people in other fields that share similar values means your product will be the first in mind when neighbors need a service. Essentially, this creates a system with client-procurement and marketing included in the rent.
Finally, joining forces with other startups enables a buying power to get office space in locations that wouldn’t typically be available to small businesses. A better location means a higher profile, closer access to economic trailblazers, and more desirable places for employees to go when off the clock.
With all of these benefits, it makes sense that coworking facilities have expanded so rapidly in such a short amount of time. But one type of business has been slow to embrace the trend: architecture. There are of course good reasons for this. Architecture offices require a unique set of technologies to create the drawings and models that aid in the design process, which traditional coworking spaces typically don’t offer. And while larger firms have the capital to purchase fleets of their own plotters, laser cutters, 3D printers, and so on, smaller firms often have to outsource these jobs or learn to go without.
Existing coworking facilities, such as, WeWork, Nextspace, or Impact HUB, have already begun developing and marketing their own identities as creative centers filled with up-and-coming-businesses, and some have begun to cater their services to a particular field, such as Amata Office Solutions, which operates several coworking spaces near courthouses that provide legal tools, such as docket and paralegal services, for law-associated businesses. An architectural coworking space could work similarly, providing the necessary tools included in the cost of the rent.
Luckily for us, one company is already trying to make that happen for architecture: BIG Oakland (standing for Building Industry Gathering), which could soon be California's first coworking space specific to the architecture, engineering and construction community. BIG will feature a dedicated drop-in space with a receptionist and stocked meeting rooms where architects can invite clients, and a full design library staffed by a professional librarian. The office will also include access to industry software including Revit, oversized plotters, scanners, pinup walls and model building space.
The project is currently going through an early stage of funding on Kickstarter, which BIG Oakland is hoping to use as leverage in attracting larger investments from institutions. The building for the facility has not yet been selected, as contributions to the campaign will help produce promotional materials and help to gather private investments to begin the process of turning traditional space into coworking space. BIG Oakland currently predicts a tiered system of rates to use its facilities, with a low-level tier of limited drop-in use at about $150/month, unlimited drop-in use at about $300/month, and a dedicated customizable work area with locking storage at about $600/month.
As many architects, perhaps inspired by Jane Jacobs, are known to profess, public space is improved by the number of casual interactions one has. And as coworking spaces around the globe have shown, work space, as well, can be improved by this phenomenon. Isn’t it time to bring the benefits of a strong working community to architects, too?