WeWork’s Chelsea headquarters just got a lot more playful. The co-working company just announced the opening of a 10,000 square foot “learning universe” for children that was designed by famed architect Bjark Ingels and his firm BIG. The two iconic companies think that better-designed schools can help children with their learning much like better-designed offices can help professionals with their jobs. It isn’t just the children that are learning. What WeWork is able to learn from the school will likely be incorporated into their office design and visa versa.
One of the things that is a focus of this beautiful learning space is the flexibility of its use. Ingels said this about his design decisions, “Children realize they have agency and when design is less prescriptive and more intuitive – we don’t have to tell kids how to use the space and every interpretation of how they use the space is good.” This might sound familiar. When he commented on his designs for WeWork’s headquarters in 2015 he said, “We are trying to retain this feeling of having an environment that anyone can actually hack if they want to. It doesn’t exactly look like a boring office building.”
In fact, flexibility and “flex space” has been one of the major changes to happen in offices since the advent of the cubicle. Having the ability to use a space in many different ways can make the occupant feel connected with it.
A recent Harvard Business Review study found that this connectedness could drastically change the perception of the space itself: “We discovered that employees who felt a greater sense of place identity (as measured by the degree to which workers perceived the space as being important to them and a meaningful place to work, felt a sense of connection to the space, were proud to be a part of the space when visitors arrived, and felt the space was a reflection of them) perceived the physical features of the space differently. For example, they experienced the space as more collaborative, social, flexible, energetic, and comfortable, while those who didn’t develop place identity saw the space as noisy and cluttered.”
“They experienced the space as more collaborative, social, flexible, energetic, and comfortable, while those who didn’t develop place identity saw the space as noisy and cluttered.”
WeGrow’s goals for this project are big. WeGrow founder and CEO Rebekah Neumann (yes Adam Neumann’s wife) said that, “WeGrow is committed to elevating the world’s collective consciousness. We believe we are all students of life for life, and that the very purpose of life is to be in a constant state of personal growth.” This idea could just as easily be applied to the thousands of employees and entrepreneurs who work out of a WeWork location as it can the children in the school.
If this concept is successful it could lead to a school/daycare system that could add immense value to WeWork’s offices. People will often drive across town to bring their kids to a preferred school, imagine what they would pay for an office with one of these schools attached. Other co-working companies like The Wing have already started rolling out childcare for its locations. It also comes at a time when charter school laws are becoming more lenient in states all over the country. WeWork has always seen themselves as much more than just a place to work. Creating schools and daycares could be a step into a much more intimate relationship with its clientele. After all, what is more personal than the relationship we have with the places where our children grow up?