How WeWork is Bringing Customized Architecture Kits to the Masses

The WeWork aesthetic is easily recognizable but completely different in each location.

Ross Brady Ross Brady

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WeWork may be the only tech company known for the design of its physical spaces more than its digital ones. Equally noteworthy is the aesthetic of these spaces, which is both easily recognizable yet completely different in each of their 600+ co-working locations. This dichotomy is owed to the company’s design approach, which blends mass-market production with experiential difference.

WeWork achieves variety on a large scale by tailoring a kit of parts for every location instead of creating a one-off design each time. Their kit encompasses types of spaces like offices, conference rooms and common areas, as well as the products those spaces are made from, like desks, wall finishes and door hardware. WeWork’s architects decide how the kit’s parts are modified to reflect local conditions and solve specific problems, but single-design solutions are almost never employed.

Below is a look at how this approach manifests itself in a variety of locations, illuminating the logic behind a company responsible for designing one of the world’s largest workplace collections.

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WeWork Weihai Lu by Linehouse, Shanghai, China

Housed in a building originally used as an opium factory then later as artist’s studios, WeWork’s Weihai Lu location makes its historical setting its primary design feature. Original façades envelop the common area while an open framework of structural steel serves as backdrop, framing an eye-catching, asymmetrical stair. Artificial lighting is dramatically detailed, with fixture-hanging rings adjoined mid-air by cables strung between historically-detailed brick walls.

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WeWork – Manhattan Laundry by WeWork, Washington, D.C.

Another instance of adaptive re-use, this WeWork takes root in a former factory building. Exposed brick is strategically left to deteriorate in places, displaying glimpses of the building’s original structure. A giant, snaking couch occupies most of the common areas while an abundance of interior glass walls makes good use of outdoor light from giant, industrial loft windows.

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WeWork – E. 57th St. by WeWork, New York, N.Y.

Style-wise, this Midtown Manhattan WeWork is dark and rich, using wood, leather and other coverings to impart an air of sophistication. Plentiful natural light lets this palette exist without becoming overpowering, and also allows for a wide variety of views out into the city, which the design frames gratuitously. A jumbled mess of structural and mechanical systems are alternately covered and exposed with secondary ceiling grids of wood, lighting fixtures and acoustical treatments.

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WeWork – 222 Broadway by Spector Group, New York, N.Y.

Like many WeWorks, this one in New York’s Financial District employs spectacular furnishings to impart a whimsical impression. A seating area constructed of pallets and an ostensibly ad-hoc lighting grid reinforce this notion, as does a colorful arcade room. Amusement park imagery reminiscent of nearby Coney Island is printed on a glass wall adjacent to the game room in a subtle nod to local features – a staple design move in WeWorks across the globe.

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WeWork Berkeley by Alexander Jermyn Architecture, Berkeley, Ca

The renovation of this 7-story building into a WeWork used the incorporation of artwork as its primary differentiator. Distinguished by a colorful outdoor mural that runs the height of the building, the interior is equally adorned with a variety of prints. In between WeWork’s standard set of glass-walled offices, phone booths and conference rooms, bold imagery, some of it referring to the local climate of revolutionary intellectualism, surrounds well-appointed kitchenettes, lounges and hot desks.

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WeWork Hong Kong by NC Design & Architecture Ltd, Hong Kong

A further example of adapting local imagery into the design of finishes and furnishings, WeWork Hong Kong is decked out to allude to the city’s transportation and street culture. A lounge features couches similar to the seating used aboard a local fleet of ferries, while an adjacent bar is shaped to evoke the design of the ferries’ terminal. Lighting fixtures match the headlights of the city’s tram cars, while a pantry cabinet mimics the carts of traditional street vendors.

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WeWork – Walnut St. by WeWork, Philadelphia, Penn.

The neighborhood surrounding this Philadelphia WeWork is framed as a dramatic backdrop running the length of the workspace’s primary wall. Making the most of an all-glass façade to impart a sense of place, the lounge along this wall doubles as an event space, filled with comfortable, multi-purpose seating and stylish light fixtures. Cleverly decorated phone booths, another signature WeWork design feature, line an adjacent interior wall.

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WeWork Corporate Headquarters by Marin Architects, New York, N.Y.

It might be worth a chuckle that WeWork’s corporate headquarters is housed in a WeWork space, at least from design standpoint. The company’s name is framed in a feature wall where work from a local artist might otherwise be placed, while all of WeWork’s key design features are present: unusual light fixtures, a variety of high-touch finish materials and a well-conceived mix of closed and open working spaces. Another feature wall is emblazoned with a company mantra: “HUSTLE”.

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