The increasing popularity of coworking startups has pressured real estate developers to reconsider their offerings. It’s no longer enough to provide an open space and other basic services to leaseholders, who have come to expect much more from the typical tenant-landlord arrangement. But developers can also find value in this disruption, according to Jamie Hodari, the CEO and co-founder of coworking company Industrious. “Our core business is to go to a CEO and say, ‘Let us manage your workplace and you’ll have happier workers.’”
Hodari was speaking before an audience at the offices of A+I, the Brooklyn-based architecture and design firm. The panel discussion, which occurred on February 28, challenged architects to rethink their role in an unpredictable landscape of technology-driven change. “The real estate industry operates on very slow, geologic time in contrast to the world of tech,” A+I co-founder Dag Folger pointed out. His co-founder, Brad Zizmor, elaborated, postulating that the profession cannot “float above and see the monumental shifts” from a detached point of view. He pushed further: “I’ve been asked, ‘Why would I want a custom-built office?’ Is what architects do relevant?”
Indeed, if more companies opt for coworking providers like Industrious, which raised $80 million in funding in February and already has 55 locations in 27 cities across the country, or Convene, which promises to deliver full-service offices on par with lifestyle hotels, fewer will need to consult architects at all. In order to combat such a scenario, practitioners need to expand their toolkit, Folger suggested, likening A+I’s services to social engineering. “We’re in the business of connecting companies with their culture and linking that to performance,” he said.
For Zizmor, architects are already well-prepared to navigate these waters of rapid cultural change. They are, in fact, better suited than companies because they have a better grasp of social dynamics, such as the rising popularity of sharing economies. “We get to be part of exciting conversations, to reinvent,” he said.
Yet, it was telling that the most provocative thought came not from an architect but a businessman. Chris Kelly, co-founder of Convene, projected the reality of coworking onto large-scale development. “What if a skyscraper were designed with the sharing economy built into it from the beginning? Is the future of our industry more co-working, or is there a larger form factor change?”