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The design evolution of Auckland's co-working spaces

Constantly evolving workplaces pose constant design challenges for co-working spaces. Here’s how Generator has dealt with them across its many different locations.

Walk through Britomart Place, Generator’s latest serviced office and co-working space, and you’ll be struck by the chic design; desks and offices perfectly placed, convenient breakout spaces, boardrooms and bar areas and, of course, a stunning view of the harbour to match. 

But the fact is that you’re viewing this on a virtual reality headset from the comfort of Generator’s original reception lounge, one block away, in Stanbeth House, a well-loved rabbit warren of co-working industry.

The juxtaposition of the two spaces speaks volumes about workplace design and where the co-working industry has come in seven years.

When Ryan Wilson founded Generator at Stanbeth, #coworking wasn’t even a word (in fact it wasn’t even a concept!) and a world away from the multi-billion dollar industry it now encompasses. 

“When we created the first Generator space, Britomart was still a collection of dilapidated buildings desperate for renewal. Redevelopment had just begun. Our residents pretty much had to wear hard hats while the building was being restored. 

“We ‘designed’ the space by simply drawing desk spaces on A4 paper and giving it to an architect – with lots of pointing and arm waving as the main planning tools. But the space had good bones and the building had a soul and that helped make the workspace successful and we got our start!” Wilson says.

Generator's Britomart Place reception area. 

Now, with four main workspaces (soon to be five) encompassing the characterful original Stanbeth space, the wacky, over-the-top Excelsior House, classy heritage restoration Mason Bros. and industrial chic of 12 Madden Street – plus seven years honing their skills – the Generator team knows more about what businesses need to work than the people who inhabit them.

“One of the first things we discovered at Generator was the relationship between workspaces, the event spaces and what we call the ‘collision spaces’ – those common areas where friendships are made, business contacts are discovered and business advice is freely given. Without that additional input of energy from the events and the collisions occurring, these co-working buildings would just be lines of desks. There is a science to this and we’re learning more about that formula every day.”

Generator Madden St collision space.

Generator general manager, Francesca Blomfield, one of the original staff members of the business, now spends a large amount of her time with interior designers and architects, furniture specifiers and landlords to plan spaces, modify formats and reshape to suit expanding businesses.

“The design of a co-working business needs to cover so many bases,” says Blomfield. “When a business first joins us, they might need a desk or four, they might like open-plan for a while to get the feeling of the energy of Generator – then within a year they’re wanting an enclosed office for 12 with their own dedicated infrastructure.

“So, Generator spaces need to allow them to scale up (or down) almost infinitely (some businesses in Generator have gone from four to 40 desks), with all the implications that has on the other businesses, use of space, and the all-important air-conditioning systems, plus IT, baristas, bike racks, toilets and everything else supporting that area.” 

Generator Madden St at night.

She says their job is to be as malleable as possible while still ensuring that the as-close-to-ideal infrastructure works, no matter what. 

“That means onsite IT team, onsite events team, onsite bar managers and a small army of concierges working franticly every day to ensure everything that can be done, is.” 

Now, working with architects and design teams such as Jasmax and CPRW Fisher Limited, Blomfield is constantly looking for improvement in the formats and services, while attempting to keep that essential service layer working for the members. 

“Generator has an essence that needs to imbue every new venue we create, overlaid with the character of that particular space and the businesses that we think it will appeal to. Our new Generator, Britomart Place is unashamedly super-premium, with surfaces and materials that reflect that, but still, somehow it will have that Generator feel, provided by the subtleties of the design, the placement of common areas and quiet spaces and the staff culture. 

“We have the advantage of being able to view the project in 3D via VR, something we couldn’t do in the past, but there is a large dollop of workplace design experience that we use to get to our final design – full of the knowledge that much of it could well be changed within a year of its creation,” Blomfield says.

Generator Madden St.

Character spaces

The different Generator spaces have as much personality as the characters within. Here are a few of them. 

Stanbeth House

Busy, bustling and full of nooks and crannies, Stanbeth’s ancient Kauri beams and plastered brick walls contain a community of characterful individuals.

Spirit animal: Brown Bear

If I was a movie I’d be:Big Fish

Recognisable Resident: Sean Walters, joyn.co.nz. Don’t expect political correctness from this bearded recruitment disruptor.

Excelsior House

Like a character from a Wes Anderson movie, the Excelsior space is full of colour, with eccentric style and hidden charm.

Spirit animal: Chilean Flamingo

If I was a movie I’d be: The Grand Budapest Hotel

Recognisable Resident: Matt Knight, sharedspace.co.nz, an online coworking community connector that made sharing space a thing in New Zealand.

Generator @ GridAKL / 12 Madden St

Industrial strength innovation space with steel, glass and concrete.

Spirit animal: Orca

If I was a movie I’d be: Gattaca

Recognisable Resident:  Maru Nihoniho from Metia Interactive, digital games warrior bringing Māori superheroes to life.

Mason Bros.

Chic urban style in an award-winning heritage refurbishment.

Spirit animal: Whale Shark

If I was a movie I’d be: The Great Gatsby

Recognisable Resident: Darren Kirkland from Krunch.co, digital marketing maverick humanising machine-learning.

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