Following its announcement of a major expansion to the Asian continent, the WeWork team is setting standards across the globe for efficient and comfortable co-working spaces, all the while adapting to its multicultural clientele. With close to 30 locations in New York City alone, WeWork’s growth in the past six years is telling of a changing mode of day-to-day office work, highlighting the value of skill and information sharing as well as communal living.
As the team at Architizer recently welcomed many new hires to work on new and exciting products, an expanded office space was needed, and the proximity of WeWork FiDi appeared as the solution to a growing company. WeWork spaces have a highly defined visual identity reflecting the missions of the brand and its interpretation of modern, cool office culture. Architizer talked to VP of Product Development Mick McConnell about the role of architectural and design decisions in the creation of the WeWork offices.
Architizer: Could you start by talking about your position at WeWork and the structure of architecture and design teams on the projects you currently have worldwide?
Mick McConnell: As Vice President of Product Development, I am part of the Product Strategy group. Our team focuses on the future of WeWork — thinking of WeWork as a core product — including the refinement of all of WeWork offices as well as totally new designs and strategies. We also are charged with the design of new concepts — new “products.” In addition to the Product Strategy group, we also have the Physical Product group, which leads the design and delivery of all WeWork properties globally.
The decor of WeWork spaces incorporates interior architecture with strong elements of graphic design and visual communication. What are the backgrounds of designers who work on WeWork’s architecture?
WeWork has over 200 people dedicated to Product. Our Arts and Graphics team is essential to the success of WeWork, and their layer of design impact is planned from a project’s inception. We have street artists, graphic designers with their Master’s degrees, architects with experience from a wide variety of firms including SHoP, LTL, Asymptote and Leeser and interior designers who have training from all over the world. We also partner with top designers, agencies and architects including Snarkitecture, HWKN, Fogarty Finger,Linehouse and many others.
Given the ever-evolving discourse between workspaces and community building, have you seen an evolution in the designs of WeWork spaces since the first co-working space opened in SoHo in 2010? What has changed the most, and what areas do you hope to continue improving in the future?
WeWork is changing the concept of the modern workplace by creating a global community where people work to make a life, not just a living. Our goal is to improve the ways in which people communicate, learn and build their business through our services, spaces and community management. We are constantly evolving as we analyze the best ways to encourage our members to create relationships, which strengthens our community.
One of the ways we do that is by studying moments of collision in our spaces, and the growth of the Common Space is a great example. The Commons provides a center of gravity through a social space that is the hub of all communication. It includes areas for lounges, hot desks, food (and beer!), meeting rooms and other amenities including ping pong and shuffleboard.
Design is just one part of the equation, and we utilize digital tools to enhance our physical solutions. In 2015, we acquired Case, a firm that specializes in building information and technology, which is already helping us create smarter, more efficient physical and digital experiences for our members.
How do you adapt to regional and local influences — the culture of the area — while maintaining a coherent visual identity for the WeWork brand? Could you give a couple of examples that stand out most in your mind?
Many brands misunderstand the global citizen. WeWork makes adjustments as necessary in each region — whether it is desk height, pantry requirements to handle different eating habits or safety standards. However, one thing we have learned is that the entrepreneurs and small businesses of today care more about sharing ideas and learning from everyone across the world in their specific industry, which results in an environment that is more global.
Concepts like social space, private meeting space, lounges and phone booths are all universal aspects of our spaces. Our members want us to provide them with space that is both functional and amazing to work in, so having these common elements gives our design team the freedom to focus on utilizing authentic materials in creative ways to make each location unique.
Could you talk a bit about the WeLive spaces the company has recently announced? What are the company’s biggest challenges, ambitions and expectations in the future?
WeLive is taking what we know and applying it to another aspect of everyday life. What we are discovering is that work, life and play are not exclusive of each other. We are designing new ways to do all of the above. The WeWork system can be applied to anything — there really are no limits. People want to be a part of a community of people that not only share common values, but also offer new experiences and information. The diversity that other products will bring to the WeWork family only enhances the community. Our biggest challenge is prioritizing new opportunities to build our community through the power of “We.”
What are the different levels of architectural intervention involved in the design process, from working in an existing office building to gut-renovating industrial spaces?
WeWork to date has mainly been transforming existing office space. We are pursuing ground-up construction in several locations, and in April, we will break ground on a new building in the Brooklyn Navy Yard that we are proud to be a part of. Our design team is prepared to take on anything at this point.