by Ares Kalandides
It is a strange place, this Zen haven in the middle of Athens. You leave the heavy traffic of Iera Odos behind you, to find yourself in the tranquillity of the Loft2Work, one of the few co-working spaces in town. I have written in the past about the ways that creative professions are changing the way we work. Both time and space seem to be reconfigured to adapt to new working habits. I think there are basically two major changes here that are bound to influence the way we thing of and design our cities:
9-5 (wherever it had been the rule) and the office/factory (again where it applied), have often been replaced by a more fluid jumble between work and leisure, between home, public and working space. The passage from one to the other is not defined by hard boundaries and it is often impossible for somebody from the outside to define whether people are working, playing – or doing both. The home, the café, the public bench can become equally attractive working spots as the office. But this type of flexibility can lead to a strange kind of solitude. You are alone (with your work tools, i.e. your computer) and move alone in a virtual world. But do you really? Face-to-face interaction, personal relations and trust seem to remain important features in everyday life, even for those whose work stretches across the globe. Creatives come together to work on projects and their little ad-hoc groups may dissolve just as quickly as they were produced.
That is where co-working spaces come in. They become those points of condensation and temporary crystallisation of apparently independently moving players in individual universes. They offer a kind of hybrid space and the community that many seem to need. That was also the idea of Sophia Dassyra, when she opened Loft2Work in Athens. It was about creating a community or at least about making visible an already existing one, about bringing together people who could work and spend time together, whether on common projects or for inspirational exchange or simply for the sake of human presence. Loft2Work functions as a club. You become a member and you can use the space to work, meet and learn. There are workshops in the weekends that are also open to external guests. But, as Sophia says, she makes her money by offering other kind of services to the industry, not through the Loft.
Konstantina Zoehrer (co-founder) is half-Austrian, half-Greek and moves comfortably between several languages. And yet, I feel there is something profoundly Greek about her communication skills, her desire and ability to bring people together. She sees herself as a social entrepreneur: somebody who wants to make a difference, react to the changing reality of our working habits in a country devastated by an ongoing crisis.
Yet, it would be a mistake to extend fordist working habits to every country – especially to the less industrialized regions of the European south. With a self-employment rate that used to be almost 50%, the relative lack of large factories, work rules in Greece hardly resembled the ones in the European north. Long – and often interrupted – working hours, several jobs at a time, instability, precariousness, the overarching family/clan and the lack of a welfare state, were the common features of working life here. If you replace the words “family/clan” by the word “community”, you could be describing the life of the “creatives” the way we now see it in several cities of the north.
What are the consequences for our cities? Co-working spaces is one possible answer. If people need community space, give it to them. If they need working-cum-leisure facilities, add them to the mix. If it is learning they are after, offer it. The way we live and work, influences our understanding and planning of our everyday spaces.
I believe that planners still need to figure out how to deal with this constantly changing working environment that defies most rules of planning. Whether they have the tools to do it, is a totally different story.