LOS ANGELES - Remember coworking? When independent workers and start-up entrepreneurs would pile into communal offices, sharing overhead and necessities like printers, bathrooms and ventilation systems? A fantastic idea for saving money on real estate and office infrastructure. Not so hot when you're trying to prevent the spread of mortal communicable diseases.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough on the office business. In the second quarter of 2020, office leasing in Los Angeles County fell to its lowest point since the Great Recession, with transactions at 60% to 70% below normal. It's been especially devastating for coworking spaces, which operate on the principle of high turnover and a changing client base with short-term leases.
As a Marketplace story from April asked: "Will COVID-19 be the death of coworking spaces?" Well, the answer depends on how they're designed.
When Second Home, a London-based coworking company opened its first U.S. location in Los Angeles in September, its planners couldn't have imagined they'd be facing a pandemic within a year's time. But Second Home's unusual design has allowed the shared space to continue functioning at a time when other nonessential office buildings remain shuttered in L.A. County.
Instead of occupying a sealed, monolithic glass office tower, Second Home inhabits a converted community center where the majority of the work spaces are housed in individual studios (there are 60) in a lush garden that was once a vast parking lot.
"Each studio is individually ventilated; all have windows that open," says Rohan Silva, cofounder of Second Home, as he winds through the garden. The studios do not have shared elevators or sealed hallways recycling the same stale air. Everything is alfresco.
"This," says Silva, "is what architecture might look like post-COVID."
If so, architecture is going to look pretty out of this world.
From a distance, the studios - designed in a variety of elliptical forms - look like a hallucinogenic cluster of toadstools. Their signature color is a zingy pineapple yellow, a tone that appears not only on the studios' bright roofs but also as accents on furnishings. The pendant lamps that dangle from the ceiling resemble minimalist cocoons. There isn't a straight line in sight.
Second Home represents the hand9work of a singular combination of architects. The Modernist main building was designed by L.A. architect Paul R. Williams in 1963 as the former headquarters of the Assistance League of California. The expansion and renovation, completed last year, were conceived by Selgascano, a Madrid-based firm known as much for its exuberant designs as for its attention to questions of environment.