Quiet is the first quality you notice when entering the Second Home coworking space in London, an unusual ambiance in such an environment. “Curved plastic partitions are the best shape to guarantee sound insulation," explained José Selgas, founder, together with Lucia Cano, of the Spanish architecture office SelgasCano. "This material is really soft and it's not glass — it's a prefabricated and precut plastic panel, so it can be moved and it's very good for acoustics. You can have people working and you really don't hear anything."
The firm's unveiling of the space comes just as it was selected to design next year's Serpentine Pavilion project in London, a high-profile showcase awarded to highly regarded architecture studios. During my visit to Second Home, the architects couldn't sit still, and they made final checks of the site and oversaw last-minute detail, changing light bulbs and modifying the arrangement of chairs in the office. “They are not doing that for show, the care and the attention that they both have is what they consistently practice,” said Sam Aldenton, who with Rohan Silva launched the new office space in the core of East London.
Second Home, the first UK project of the Spanish duo, aims to become not just a creative workspace, but also a vibrant cultural hub housing live music, lectures, and film screening programs — a strategy that other neo-21st-century offices, such as the David Rockwell-designed NeueHouse, have employed. To ensure such flexibility at Second Home, the main room on the ground floor is organized as a double high open space with a U-shape "flying table" that can be raised up to the ceiling thanks to a motor-powered steel apparatus.
The two-story space consists of different size offices that can house from five to 25 people each. The cafe/restaurant, defined by the architects as a "greenhouse" — titled such because of its rounded, plentiful windows — becomes the core of the office, a place where people can meet and share ideas from different fields, activities, and backgrounds. This cultivates the sense of community in the space, Silva explains, mentioning an affinity for the similarly communal settings shepherded by Steve Jobs for the design of Pixar headquarters.
Second Home's "greenhouse."
An orange tunnel made of transparent acrylic forms a shell-like casing for the greenhouse. The material echoes the design for SelgasCano's office, located in the woods near Madrid, in which the interior space is immersed in the natural setting because of full-wall windows that curve up to become the ceiling.
At Second Home, the windows on both façades extend outside, creating a sense of community within the peculiar creative setting characterized by the area located between London's Tech hub in Old Street and the fashion scene in Hackney Wick.
One side provides an uninterrupted view into the interior, giving onlookers a view of the entire space, with no walls or opaque surfaces blocking the view. “Everybody can see what everybody else is doing. This focus on doing, making, and creating gives the space an energy that has a material impact on how people are working,” said Aldenton.
Considering the SelgasCano "Between Air" installation, part of the Spanish pavilion at the 2012 Architecture Biennale in Venice, it's no surprise that over 1,000 plants and flowers have been planted around the 24,000-square-foot office area, fed by an advanced hydroponics system that brings nutrients to the plants, eliminating the need for soil maintenance and increasing vegetative yield with minimal costs. The connection with nature is not only expressed by the large amount of foliage, but also by the aesthetic complexity in the space, where straight lines do not exist and spaces each have individual designs, avoiding the cookie-cutter approach of other coworking spaces in which some spaces are exactly the same as others.
With "second" being an organizing principle in this home-away-from-home, the space boasts a remarkable collection of over 600 different secondhand chairs and lamps by mid-century and contemporary designers. What else is to be desired from an office space?
All images by Iwan Baan via Second Home.