C-Suite corner offices complete with ennui-infused office plants. Strip lighting, synthetic carpet tiles, and beige melamine discoloured by years of smoke; sun filtered through vertical blinds and the marks of humanity. Frankly, you’d have more chance of feeling upbeat about a JM Coetzee novel than by delving into a hypothetical archive of office spaces and interiors through history.
We all know it. The places where we’ve been employed over the past century have not been trendy or dynamic. That wasn’t the point. And then suddenly, come the 2000s — no doubt, thanks to a bunch of young upstarts inventing concepts such as blogs and craft beer and influencers — stuff got cool. People were working in coffee shops, offices went entirely open-plan, people started to hot desk.
Enter the shared workspace. The advent of which has arguably been the biggest jump in job environs in years. Today, for a fee, freelancers, independent types, inter-city commuters, and youngsters rent desks in shared office spaces. With that, they get boardrooms, concierge services, barista coffee, and fancy places to meet clients.
Rosebank’s Workshop17 Firestation is one of Joburg’s latest and most impressive examples of this trend. Those people who clocked the build will know that the multi-floor work setup adjoins the suburb’s heritage — but still operational — fire station. Which is why you’ll find nods to the emergency service (beaded fire hats, for example) popping up around it. That, and the rest of the interiors, were conjured up by Platform Creative Agency. Their creative director Cathy O’Clery is South African design royalty, and knows a thing or two about making the places we inhabit look and feel good.
“We operate in a shared workspace ourselves, so know the key to their success is creating a culture for it,” she says. Using an eclectic mix of contemporary local furniture, vintage pieces, art, colour, and plants, the designers have imbued the old Arts and Crafts part of the Fire Station — and the 10th floor of the new building attached to it (views to the Magaliesberg and all) — with a sense of fun, warmth, and professionalism. Graft at your desk, swap notes with someone else who shares the space, use a meeting room or quiet pod.
Workshop17’s marketing manager Britta Dahms agrees. “We’re trying to build a community here,” she says. “I’m fascinated by how our clients help each other and network despite having totally different professions.” The company has similar ventures across South Africa — “all in unusual buildings, an old tobacco warehouse in Paarl, for example — and never cut and paste,” Dahms adds.
They’re at the forefront of office-space-philosophy transformation, and seeing some interesting changes. Perhaps most fascinating of all: big companies are starting to relocate project teams to work in these kinds of environments — one of the country’s largest banks has done just that in the case of Workshop17 Firestation.
- From the February edition of Wanted 2019.