Several hundred years before the current hot-desking mania took hold, Renaissance architects, engineers and businessmen worked cheek to jowl in bottegas (workshops) – the co-working space of the day. It was this richly productive environment of cross-pollination that inspired Denmark native Soren Trampedach’s concept of a combined shared office space and business club.
“My idea was around diversity,” says Soren. “If you operate in isolation to some extent, or within your own tribe, network, industry – call it whatever you like – you are just less likely to find answers. If you step outside of your tribe, you’re more likely to find different perspectives and ideas to what you otherwise would have got.”
Currently living in Australia, the ninth country he’s counted as home, Soren – an adviser to industry leaders such as Google, Deloitte, NAB and Facebook – came up with the first model and business plan for his co-working space back in 2005.
Work Club started as a one-level space overlooking the Supreme Court and Hyde Park on Elizabeth Street in Sydney, and has since expanded to two, and then three, floors. A second location opened on Collins Street in Melbourne last year. Through global affiliations, Work Club members also have access to shared office spaces in numerous locations around the world, including New Zealand, London, Dubai and China.
Like other co-working spaces, Work Club offers a business address, mail service, Wi-Fi and meeting rooms. But they take things further. Inspired by the famed Renaissance city-state of Florence, they partner with organisations including TEDx and The School of Life to hold salon events, roundtables and lunches under the banner of Florence Guild.
“When I opened [in] Sydney three years ago, I wanted to get as many different kinds of people together in one place [as I could],” says Soren. “People from the top end of town, conservatives, introverts [and] old, cynical and crazy out-there artists.”
To ensure a diversity of ideas and experiences, the Work Club member base is carefully curated through an application process. “I didn’t want 20 lawyers, I didn’t want 20 graphic designers. I wanted it to be really diverse, because otherwise it was kind of defeating the whole theory.”
And it’s worked. There are more than 60 industries represented at Work Club, with musicians, philosophers, politicians, academics and ex-professional sportspeople. “There’s a few billionaires there, too,” says Soren.
Each Work Club is thoughtfully planned, all the way down to its scent (a concoction of leather and citrus). “It does things to your mind, in combination with the furniture, the people. It’s not perfume, but it’s kind of a perfume that is just part of the experience.”
Having crafted offices for BMW, Google, Microsoft and others, Soren’s top priorities when it comes to designing a workplace are functionality, and the integrity of the furniture. Every piece in the Melbourne Work Club 1930s art deco-style space is sourced from small European factories (one craftsman makes only 40 chairs a month), the owners of which Soren knows personally. All of the timber, leather and steel is raw “so when you touch it, you feel it,” says Soren.
“It’s not glossed over, it’s not protected. There’s an authenticity… I don’t care if the leather gets marks, I don’t care if the timber gets marks. It’s history. It’s feeling something took place there.”
The boardroom table is made from timber reclaimed from old Danish ferry walls. It weighs half a tonne, and is surrounded by 25-year-old red leather Eames chairs that Soren bought a few years ago. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re crazy, why are you buying those?’” But he knew, one day, he’d have the perfect place for them.
“The things will last for 30 to 40 years. To me, it’s not expensive, because I know that I never will need to change any of it. I take a more long-term view.
“In Denmark, it’s normal. You have beautiful things, and you just keep them. You don’t throw them out.”
Though he has no formal training, his Danish heritage and a passion for design have served Soren well. “I don’t actually have a design education,” he admits. “I just kind of ended up in that area.”
After running several of his own businesses during his twenties (“some quite successful and others not so much”), Soren “sort of fell” into a corporate job with US office furniture and workspaces manufacturer Haworth, the second-largest of its kind in the world. Over the next 11 years he held five or six different roles within the company, his last as vice president for Europe. He also sat on the board in the US. It was here that Soren first worked with Google and Microsoft.
Though he says things have changed at Google since he last worked with them, at the time it was all very traditional floor plans with meeting rooms close to the core, workstations around the perimeter and then “this [slippery] slide or something outrageous that would grab your attention,” says Soren. “But from a layout perspective, there was nothing progressive about it.”
He says part of the problem was that every designer and architectural firm would pitch to this style, because they thought that’s what Google wanted.
“But Google actually didn’t want that and at some point they decided, ‘We’ve got to be progressive. We’ve got to be more of what we say we are.’ And that’s rare.” Soren was part of this change and created a much more hybrid space. It’s a philosophy he has brought with him to Work Club. “The key part for me is not to just create ABW – activity based working. That works for extroverts, but doesn’t work for introverts. What you create is a hybrid environment.”
As to his actual design process, it’s somewhat intangible. When given a new blank space, he begins by sitting in it, sometimes overnight. He’ll come in on a Thursday night and spend Friday, Saturday and Sunday sitting on the carpet – “sort of yoga, almost”. He looks at the light, maps the flow and does his first round of sketches. He comes up with a couple of different versions, inevitably completely changing them over the weekend. It takes time. And it’s not an isolated process. He bounces ideas off “a guy I’ve worked with for years, a very talented guy”.
Once he has a space just the way he wants it, Soren has been known to stir the pot. In the early days of the Sydney Work Club, people would walk straight to a workstation and sit down. “A normal reaction, right?” In response, Soren put a ‘reserved’ sign on each of the 12 workstations, to force people to sit somewhere else. At the end of the day he would ask them, “How was that?” People would tell him they’d never sat in a different space before. He’d smile, pleased.
“You design in such a way – I want people to move around throughout the day, depending on what activity they do. When you’re noisy, you go to the part where there’s energy and where’s there noise, and when you want to be quiet, you’ve got your focus and it’s quiet.”
“I spend a lot of time up front doing that, and I love that part because you never quite get it right, but that’s why the space always changes.”