5 things to consider when designing any co-space




Co-living, co-working, co-everything isn't a new concept. Yet, there is something seismically different about the new co-spaces popping up all over the world. They offer a designed, orchestrated and cohesive approach to forging relationships and creativity. The meteoric growth of companies like WeWork, Common, The Collective, Knotel, Greystar and Second Nature, along with many others signifies a switch. We could try and unpick why there are now over 14,000 co-working spaces worldwide? And WeLive expects to house 34,000 people by the end of 2018? But right now what matters to us is what all this means for design. What does it actually take to design the interiors of a co-living or co-working space.

eporta co-everything talk at Decorex 2018

Credit: eporta co-everything talk at Decorex 2018

Our recent panel discussion on co-everything at Decorex (you can read about that here) got us thinking about this topic. We were joined by, Architect Michael Faulkner, From Design Haus Liberty, Courtnee Robertson, Interior Architect at The Collective, Gary McLuskey, Global Design Managing Director for Greystar and Adriana Zielinska, an interior designer for Gensler. They shared first-hand insights into what works for them and what they've learnt along the way.

As you'd imagine, there's no one size fits all approach to designing co spaces. In fact, as more options become available the greater the difference between them. If we compare WeWork to Blender in New York, the aesthetics are strikingly different. Yet, there are some consistent design principles between them. We're highlighting 5 of these here.

Work.Life Bermondsey via Modus


Credit: Work.Life Bermondsey via Modus

  1. Function, form and feeling

As designers, we always try to strike a balance between these three, however, it was clear from the panel discussion that feeling is particularly important for the experiential seeking members of co-spaces. After all, it's partly what they are paying for. If things don't function properly that affects the experience members have of the space. Things just have to work, it's as simple as that.

Furthermore, you're joining a community of like-minded individuals, creating memorable moments together, you expect to find making friends easy. One way of achieving this goal was highlighted by Michael Faulkner, at Decorex, that "Comfort comes first when we are trying to draw conversations out of people and allow them to connect." Co-workers like the pic' n' mix nature of sumptuous social sofas next to ergonomic office chairs and desks. They have clear options for work and play. The relaxed mix makes them experience a sense of comfort, opening them up to the two c's of co-working; conversation and collaboration.

 2. Open vs Private

When you conjure up an image of co-working and co-living spaces many think of open plan design. It's a fair assumption that for the serendipitous moments of collaborative exchange to happen there need to be minimal barriers to conversation. After all, as Albert Angel said, in reference to the co-working space, Kwerk, he designed in Paris- "Isolation is the enemy of creativity". But just pulling down walls and opening the space up doesn't automatically lead to collaboration. In fact, architect Jenny Jones believes that- "rather than building teams, the constant interruption which comes from this setup can lead to resentment".

We've all sat next to that person that talks too much, types too loudly or shouts on the phone. In a space where that person isn't necessarily a colleague and where you're paying for a desk, this could become frustrating. Great co-designs find a balance between open and private, loud and quiet spaces.

The Office Group London, photos by Benjamin Lund via Muuto

Credit: The Office Group London, photos by Benjamin Lund via Muuto

With co-living there are the obvious private spaces, like bedrooms and bathrooms, but some may want to be near others in the living room, yet, still have a degree of separation. Solutions for this may be a reading nook on a window ledge or a separate armchair in the corner. Even a bookcase dividing the seating area from the dining space can give residents the respite and privacy they need. As Gary McLuskey pointed out during our Decorex talk- "Having space where you can get away and be quiet is just as important as socialising".

3. Bang for your buck

Space is money. Many of these developments are in central city locations, every square foot has to prove its worth. Worth in this instance is measured by member retention, experience, and of course profits. "Ideally we don't want people to leave, we want them to feel like they can get nearly everything they need from a co-space." Adriana Zielinska, interior designer for Gensler mentioned this at Decorex. In this vein, Co-spaces are beginning to offer everything under one roof. From bars and restaurants, gyms and wellness suites, even schools (WeGrow). Taking on a project like this means experiencing design across all frontiers.

Going one step further, central city locations are merging co-working with co-living. The Assemblage designed by Meyers Davis Studio is a perfect example of this. With 9 floors of hotel rooms, 3 floors of co-working and 3 floors of cafes and public spaces in the New York Financial district.


Credit: The Assemblage designed by Meyer Davis via Business Insider

To increase the supposed worth of experience, "Amenities and kitchens are strategically positioned to 'engineer serendipity'." according to Gabor Nagy and Gary Lindsay. The sparks of genius and innovation that co-spaces have been famed for, notably come from these informal areas. Many designers, including Jeremy Levitt and Andrew Cohen, share the logic that "nothing brings strangers together better than a communal watering hole." This strongly influenced their design for Blender in New York, introducing a 2,500ft cafe to the scheme.

Blender designed by Parts and Labor via Wallpaper

Credit: Blender designed by Parts and Labor via Wallpaper

4. Flexibility

We are not reinventing the wheel with this one but it’s definitely worth highlighting. Courtnee Robertson commented during our Decorex talk that- "We design with maximum flexibility. Creating spaces that can change and remain agile." With potentially hundreds of people using the space at once, each with their own agenda, it is great to build in flexibility. See the furniture as a moving set, that changes according to the narrative. From a small detail like a pouffe that can be used as an extra seat, a laptop table or even a footstool. To rollable walls and whiteboards that can break up a space at a moment’s notice. As we said this isn't a new concept, especially in workplace design, yet, in spaces where multiple companies and individuals coexist an increased focus on flexibility is paramount.

Cascando's range of space dividers easily moved to create an entirely different space.

 Credit: Cascando's range of space dividers easily moved to create an entirely different space.

5. Not just a design it's a brand

Mikko Summala, a co-working member, recently stated why people love co-working spaces so much on BBC Radio 4. "Small companies can act like large corporations without limitations. We have these amazing offices around the world, the right image, fantastic branding...You come into these offices and feel like you've arrived". The space isn't just an office or apartment for members it's a way of presenting themselves to the world. The type of co-space they choose to live or work in outwardly defines what they and their company stand for. Design in these circumstances is the execution of a brand, not just for the owner/developer of the co-space, but for every member that uses it as well.



Credit: Workingshare– Fribourg, design by DoWe via Viccabre

As more developments emerge in the market, the more niche they will get. We've already seen specialist co-working spaces developed for women only and musicians only. Alongside this are a growing number of large corporations joining the movement, in a bid to benefit from the surge in creativity that co-spaces inspire, WeWork has already created stand-alone locations for IBM, UBS and Facebook.

The panel discussed how you are really committing to a vision of creating for the tribe that will inhabit the space. In doing so you are designing their brand too. WeWork has received lots of press recognition for doing this well. With a distinctive aesthetic that goes with them everywhere, they flex it enough to make spaces feel unique and relate to their individual local, but the brand thread is always there. Both Gary and Michael discussed the importance of "Drawing the wider community in, with cafes and bars that are open to the public is really important. Spaces shouldn't be built in isolation". Taking cues from the surrounding environment helps it feel more authentic and aligned with the people using it.


Credit: Co-working office, Hong Kong designed by Bean Buro Studio via Muuto


The growth of the co industry is extraordinary. In essence, each space is designed to encourage collaboration, creativity and conversation. The big design takeaway is summed up wonderfully by Will Meyer from Meyer Davis Studio: "The biggest design element is creating a design language." It's bigger than this one project it's creating something that talks to every member who uses it, and to the wider public too.

Co-spaces lower loneliness, they increase productivity and are reported to increase creativity by up to 70%. Design has a significant role to play in delivering that magic. The question isn't is co-everything here to stay, but more where will it take us next?

Entrance way at Old Oak, designed by The Collective.

Credit: Entrance way at Old Oak, designed by The Collective.

Link to the journal copy.

This post was written by: Lorna Oakley