Text: Zuzanna Mielczarek*
What’s with this fern?
Working space as we know it – a typical open space – is slowly becoming the thing of the past. Rows of anonymous desks and cubicles, employees working like beavers, strict dress codes and working hours – even the world’s largest corporations have been abandoning this pattern. Working patterns themselves have been undergoing a change, becoming more and more free and informal. Someone could call it a whim of jaded yuppies… I – however – lean towards believing it to be a positive tendency, a tendency to humanize sterile and depressing office spaces. Workers are looking for places where they can feel the presence of the principles of community and co-working, that is, the sharing of a working/relaxation space or professional equipment but, most of all, the sharing of reflections and ideas.
In Poland, for example, we have Soho Factory located in Warsaw, where several creative offices – Projekt Praga, WWAA and Super Super share a working space in the old factory – Komin73. Such solutions – a few young companies getting together to work in one place – have been long popular in the Netherlands. The plague of deserted office buildings in a way forces their reinterpretation and readaptation, adequate to new needs. That’s how enterprises such as Het Schieblock in Rotterdam, designed by the ZUS - socially engaged design office, came to be. A desolate, modernist building was transformed into an urban laboratory with office space to rent at a reasonable price. The entire complex resonates with the atmosphere of cooperation and networking. On top there’s a roof garden while the ground floor is full of stores and cafés…
A lost freelancer
All right then, but what about freelancers? What about professionally active city dwellers who work on their own, independently? When we can count only on ourselves, the rent of even the cheapest and smallest office space is often beyond our financial capacity. On the other hand, we can quickly get tired of working from home… Working in one’s living space may often result in the blurring of boundaries between the time for work and the time for rest. Also, there’s a risk of falling into a trap of forced flexibility for 24h a day, the risk mentioned by Jonathan Crary in his book "24/7. Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep" With unlimited access to one’s home office, it may often happen that it’s more important to answer another email or finish a project that to sleep.
What about freelancing in a café? This option can quickly turn into a nightmare, if – out of the blue – a place starts swarming with boisterous students or a mother with a crying newborn sits next to us. Not to mention service who may glance suspiciously at us sitting for the fifth hour over one coffee and a piece of cake… Even though café freelancing seems to have become a symbol of a freelance profession, (we can imagine a young, creative person skipping through messages on their Mac while sipping coffee in Starbucks) those who have tried working that way know pretty well that it’s a stereotype – short-lasting and unreal.
I’ve had to face these problems myself more than once, but I’m sure it’s the case with every beginning freelancer. An intellectual work, even though some say all it needs is a head full of ideas and a running laptop, cannot be done everywhere. In search of the working space of our times I go to Amsterdam – the creative heart of the Netherlands.
Amsterdam and its Spaces
A new quality of work sought for by a modern freelancer can be found at Spaces. Located in Amsterdam, the company – as its name suggests – offers aco-working spaces for rent. I took the chance to visit one of its three locations, Vijzelstraat, in the south center of the city. After passing by brick tenement houses and picturesque canals characteristic of Amsterdam I reached my destination – one of the offices of Spaces, occupying a former office building of the Dutch bank ABN-AMRO. The building’s modernist, massive shape, in its scale and architecture, contrasts sharply with a historic neighborhood.
Hence the Spaces brand becomes even more unique and recognizable. It’s also a sign of our times because modernist office buildings – slightly outdated in their anonymous open-space principle – still attract attention with their aesthetic and can serve as perfect bases for various enterprises. I can imagine how Alfa buildings in Poznan transform into Spaces-like spaces. So far, unfortunately, the center of Poznan – Święty Marcin street in particular – have been developed without any regard for current trends or inhabitants’ comfort. Amsterdam, the municipality known for its wealth of tourist attractions, also struggles with urban planning issues. The main issue is how to make the city more friendly for people who live there permanently or temporarily. The reconsideration of the working landscape is the key if we want to create a friendly atmosphere in the city. The presence of creative, flexible, open and less formal spaces makes sure that the center of the city will not remind of a heritage or amusement park.
I explore Spaces. Once I enter the building I can feel that the key element of the Spaces offer is the atmosphere itself. I walk through a tall and spacious lobby, in which business talks over coffee take place every day from dawn to dusk. Long tables and open laptops witness the making of important decisions and contacts.
As the creators of the enterprise assert, the work these days is not so much about objects as about people and their ideas. That’s why it’s of the utmost importance to provide workers with a working space of the finest quality – a space that forms a perfect background for meetings, cooperation and creation. And since people are the key factor to make everything work, the team at Spaces is devoted to the organization of networking meetings or meetings between potential co-workers. PR managers, who watch over, observe, approach and know their clients well, do everything in their power to help them. Hard-working freelancers will get here everything they need: apart from a café/cafeteria in the lobby serving as a space for business meetings, they will be able to use printers, paper cutters and showers (for tired bikers).
Working spaces inside the building are really diverse. Walking from floor to floor, I pass by lots of spaces with totally distinct characters. You can work in a cozy space reminding of a home office or library. Should you feel like being totally separated – you can choose one of the cubicles. If a dynamic atmosphere boosts your creativity, you may work in an open-space which, despite its open character, has lots of nooks and hideouts. Furniture is by no means similar to what we see in typical offices. Here, we have benches, chairs, sofas, comfortable armchairs, tables, coffee tables and desks. Smaller working spots are designed in a free way, separated by bookshelves or exotic plants (modern office ferns!), making the atmosphere natural and familiar. At Spaces, we won’t see any partition walls so typical of office buildings. Wooden and upholstered Scandinavian design furniture contrast perfectly with the rawness of the exposed concrete construction of the building. Diversity manifests itself not only in interior design of the place, but also in professionals who work here: graphic designers, writers, lawyers, and even politicians…of completely different age. We have to remember that freelancing is not only about the young. When retired, a lot of people decide to embark on their own, independent business journey.
Surprising is the fact that once you’re a member of this co-working space, you don’t have a particular working spot assigned to you once and for all. Such a practice is aimed at fostering interpersonal relations and preventing boredom. So instead of sequestering ourselves in our favorite “den”, we explore all the possibilities Spaces has to offer. The notion of not owning a desk reflects the way we work these days – all we need is a laptop we take from home every day. When I think of it, all these working spots are so attractively designed I cannot imagine choosing just one. After a while, the fascination with my spot would fade and I would envy my co-worker his desk, more fancy armchair or lighting… That’s the true beauty of diversity.
A fee for a membership card is 200 – 300 euro a month, depending on the length of one’s stay. It may not be the cheapest possible offer, however, what you get in return is calmness and comfort. Spaces has already arranged everything for you, all you need to do is take your laptop, sit comfortably and start working.
The space of PURO
The eclectic and diverse character of Spaces reminds me of the lobby at PURO Hotel Poznan. As a brand, PURO follows the ideas that originated in Amsterdam but are completely new to Poznan – the attractive city where tourism and entertainment blend with the everyday life of inhabitants.
The open-to-public ground floor – the lobby and Nifty No. 20 restaurant – serves as a space for conferences and the variety of cultural events and shows. For example, one of the recent events organized by PURO (in collaboration with USTA Magazine) was the Flower Fest. I know from experience that the PURO space is always friendly, inviting people to come, sit comfortably, drink coffee, and work – all of it in a casual way. You’re welcome here whenever you want - if you want to finish an article, check email, or simply relax… Perhaps your visit will result in sudden networking opportunities? Lots of creative people stay at PURO hotels – you never know when you’ll bump into them! Open, multifunctional spaces are one of the greatest assets of modern cities, whose inhabitants and visitors need a place where they can feel comfortable and at ease, but also focus, work and read.
There must be something to the inscription on the door at Spaces in Amsterdam: Welcome home. Oops, we meant ''Welcome to work!''
Photos: Zuzanna Mielczarek, PURO Hotels archives, head photo courtesy by Spaces
*Zuzanna Mielczarek, b. 1990 in Poznań. In 2014, she defended her architectural project of an urban educational farm at the University of Arts in Poznań and obtained the title of an engineer/architect. At present, she lives both in Rotterdam and Poznań and continues her search for design inspiration at Delft University of Technology and Poznań University of Arts. She’s interested in design as a stimulus for social change and interpersonal relations. She’s been in training in such architectural firms as Medusa Group in Bytom, SHAU in Rotterdam, but also in a furniture design and woodworking studio Atelier 365 in Brussels. Her achievements comprise, among other things, furniture projects and cardboard toys.