A refurbished warehouse in Pyrmont and the historic “Money Box” building are the sites of two of Sydney’s newest co-working spaces, developed by international co-working start-up WeWork. Its co-founder and chief creative director, Miguel McKelvey, recently visited Sydney for the official launch of WeWork Martin Place.
NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian cut the ribbon at the space’s grand opening. “Collaboration is vital to innovation, and the dynamic spaces created by WeWork around our city will only serve to fuel the ideas being created here every day,” she said.
WeWork offers beautiful, furnished co-working spaces; a suite of business services such as IT support and payment processing; and an emphasis on community. It is an ever-expanding empire of 162 offices in 41 cities. So far in Australia more than 2500 members have signed up, from freelancers to corporations. High-profile members include Outbrain, Loan Dolphin, and Qantas’s new accelerator program, Avro.
WeWork started in 2010 when McKelvey and co-founder Andrew Neumann found themselves working in a shared warehouse in Brooklyn. “The facility was just terrible,” he recalls. Nothing worked, including internet, and there was no flexibility. Tenants were required to sign three, five or even 10-year leases. “That just seemed ridiculous when you have no idea how big you're going to be.”
Even though the office was filled with creative people, entrepreneurs and innovative companies, no communal space meant a lack of any sense of community. “We saw that as a big opportunity, to add a much better design and a layer of service and then give people the opportunity to connect with each other – really capitalise on the energy that small business creates,” he says.
WeWork Martin Place opened in October 2016 on three floors of the 1916 Commonwealth Bank building. The design, by local studio TomMarkHenry, reflects the building’s important history; it features herringbone timber floors; a colour palette of navy blue, green and burgundy; and accents of brass and marble.
The Pyrmont office occupies a former wool-storage warehouse on Harris Street. “It's one of our coolest buildings, for sure,” says McKelvey. The interior design uses industrial materials such as concrete and steel; leather and timber furnishings; and preserved original features including large exposed wooden beams.
In June, a third WeWork space with five floors and two balcony terraces will open at 333 George Street. Unique to this office is bike storage, showers, an events space and a brainstorming room.
Each WeWork space supplies all the necessities that keep an office functioning: wi-fi, printing, soundproof phone booths, conference rooms and, importantly, coffee. Prices start at $450 a month for a hot desk at Pyrmont. A private office-for-one in the CBD starts at $1150.
Members are welcome to move between the different WeWork Sydney spaces. “We see a lot of interaction and collaboration from our Martin Place members that come over to Pyrmont,” says McKelvey. To help facilitate community, each space hosts weekly networking events, happy hours, classes and workshops.
WeWork takes an egalitarian approach to membership. “Our premise is that we're all stronger together, no matter what our qualifications are and that we want to give everyone the opportunity to pursue their passion and join in the community no matter what their experience level is,” says McKelvey.
McKelvey, a trained architect, leads architecture and design at WeWork. When it comes to design, he approaches each building afresh. “We don't really have a formula, other than to look at the building, the character, and its qualities and try to bring those out and make the building as interesting as we can,” he says.
The ultimate goal, he says, is to create places that make people happy. As a counterpoint to the serious business of work, McKelvey tries to inject light-heartedness into WeWork workspaces through the addition of features such as original artworks. WeWork Martin Place features a mural by Melbourne typographer/sign painter Tristan Kerr and several paintings by Sydney artist Dina Broadhurst. At Pyrmont, a 15-metre long mural by local artist Georgia Hill is displayed at the entry to the main lounge. Artist Kate Banazi, in collaboration with Diego Berjon, provided 15 silk-screen works. WeWork is scheduled to open its first Melbourne space on Collins Street in October.