The co-working space is a curious, and often problematic, office type. More than any other office model, it is usually burdened with a whole set of issues that are unique to shared spaces. What is intended to be a versatile and flexible workspace often ends up as bland series of rooms that are stripped of personality, and neither comforts nor inspires.
But that is not to say that the co-working space is devoid of benefits apart from cost-effectiveness and convenience. On the contrary, if done well, the advantages and possibilities it presents are sizeable, and Silicon Straits seems to have gotten the formula right with CO.LAB – much of this has to do with the very nature of the company.
Silicon Straits was founded by James Chan in 2012. On the surface, it appears to be a technology incubator, but is really so much more than that. “We invest in the convergence of design, hardware and software, and operates at the intersection of ideas, talent and capital,” says Chan. In addition to managing a venture fund that invests in technology start-ups from North America and Southeast Asia, Silicon Straits also develops web and mobile products of its own and for other individuals and companies. “My vision is for Silicon Straits to become the better platform for designers, engineers and entrepreneurs to get together, be inspired, make things and start and grow companies. CO.LAB is the physical manifestation of that vision.”
The Silicon Straits co-working space is located within an industrial block alongside other small-medium enterprises, technology-based or otherwise. Designed by design studio Outofstock
, the space is a vibrant hub where entrepreneurs and individuals in the fields of technology and design can rent desks, whether for long- or short-term purposes.
What sets this space apart from other co-working spaces, particularly technology-based ones, is its tempered mix of functionality and wit, as well as its truly flexible space. “I looked at all the co-working spaces in Singapore but I didn’t feel like any of them really understood what it means to bring together community, design and technology,” says Chan.
Chan’s brief to Outofstock outlined a space that not only works as a functional office for small start-ups during the day, but could also be manipulated to host events after working hours for interest groups and grassroot tech communities that Silicon Straits is a patron to. At the same time, the space was to be more deliberate than most other similar spaces in encouraging interaction between people.
“That’s what got us interested in this project in the first place,” says Gabriel Tan, one of four of Outofstock’s founders. “We wanted to see how design can prompt people to interact in a way that James intended; how we envisioned a co-working space could be.”
The 2,000sqft office consists of an open plan work area that can accommodate up to 35 persons at full capacity. Supporting the work area is a row of ancillary spaces along its edges, three of which (the fabrication workshop, and two meeting rooms) are cheekily housed in pods shaped in archetypal building shapes – the workshop structure in the shape of a factory and the meeting rooms in the shape of houses.
“We wanted to create a visual landscape within a very small space,” says Tan, “and we were inspired by Scandinavian colours and the houses that you see in Greenland.” Seemingly incidental lounge spaces between the workshop and meeting room structures are really intentional breathers that prevent the office from feeling overcrowded.
Considering that Outofstock started out in furniture, it is apt that customised furniture plays an integral role in how the space works. Outofstock specifically designed a three-legged table for the space. “It’s shaped such that you can form clusters in more organic configurations,” says Tan, referring to the table wedge-shaped head. Carefully considered proportions add to a table that provides just enough working space for an individual, and is also nifty enough to be moved around – aided by a wheel at the base of one of the legs.
The desire to create a fluid and mobile working space also demanded sufficient circulation space. This resulted in a design tension that Outofstock had to deal with as Tan explains, “You need enough space to roll your desk around. But at the same time, you need to pack in a certain number of desks for the space to make sense in terms of returns and also creating a vibrant community.”
Already, Silicon Straits has hosted a couple of events, one of which was a hiring event done in the style of speed-dating with desks forming little islands around the work area. Other events have seen up to 70 people occupy the space, with desks conveniently pushed to one side and beanbags pulled out instead. “I feel like a lot of free spaces out there have too much agenda and not enough of that just-make-it-happen, new-gen way of doing things,” Chan shares. With Silicon Straits, he not has the liberty of will to host independent events, but also the ideal environment to do it in. He says, “It’s a grown up community centre for geeks.”
Photography: Edward Hendricks
This article first appeared in Cubes Indesign issue 68.