Second Home
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Second Home


Second Home
By SelgasCano -

The typology of the office building – deep plans, cellular – however effectively the surface treatments of colour schemes, textures and art works are used to raise the tone – remains a reserved, formal and hierarchical one. Similarly, the newer types of rental office suites usually have a conventional or temporary feel to them. But the recent rise in creative co-working spaces, in London’s Shoreditch and other UK cities, often taking advantage of old industrial buildings, has cast aside all that tradition. In some cases, co-working spaces now operate from the other end of the spectrum, appearing like one big living room. That is fine for hot-desking, but the growing genre needs more than to lean on hotel design for inspiration.
Second Home, a new type of workspace-cum-club for digital age entrepreneurs created by Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton, and occupying a 2322.6m² former carpet factory in Whitechapel, is conceived very differently. It is a gloriously porous cultural hub with more than over 1000 hydroponic plants and flowers arranged around the glazed curved walls of the workspaces to screen adjacent activity, and an enormous glass-sided board room for larger meetings and live events (including with Edward O. Wilson, the biologist, and Dazed and Confused magazine) with a big oval steel table weighing 1.5 tonnes on hydraulics that can be raised up to store away in the ceiling and a bar and the Jago restaurant on the street side.


To achieve such a new genre of creative work hub, which is organized on a membership basis, Silva and Aldenton commissioned SelgasCano, a young Spanish architectural practice whose vivid studio, half sunken into the garden of their home in the suburbs of Madrid, completed a few years ago, has become a symbol of their work. Second Home’s patronage brought the practice to the attention of the Serpentine Gallery, and SelgasCano was recently announced as the architects of the 2015 Serpentine Pavilion. Like their studio, Second Home’s palette also favours yellow, orange and green colours, upbeat and soothing at the same time.


Influenced by biophilia and evolution psychology, Second Home, has barely any straight lines, adhering to Silva’s view that it reflects the urban condition: ‘cities are full of fractal-like complexity’, as well as the exuberant spirit of their workspace concept. Second Home is conceived as a place of work for ‘different creative companies at the intersection of different fields, he explains, ranging from SurveyMonkey and Foursquare, to Visualise (virtual reality filmmakers), and Santander’s new investment fund for tech startups. People can work in their own offices (which vary in size, accommodating 6-25 staff), but also in the ‘roaming’ spaces – one of seven meeting rooms, the bar, the 120-seat board room, the Jago restaurant – and as project teams, including freelance staff, ‘wax and wane’, says Silva, this makes a lot of sense. ‘Freedom of movement is very important’, adds Aldenton.


‘We are very obedient to the clients’, says José Selgas, ‘design is something that can be dead after one year. It needs new life’. SelgasCano has shown great resourcefulness to support the big picture  – ceilings are made of wood wool, for example, and attentive to the smallest details, like luminous green key cylinder on the office doors for entry and departure when it is dark, individually sized lights recessed in the walls. The array of perspex mail boxes becomes an abstract work of art; coloured light bulbs feature here and there. Everything is geared towards a more experiential, yet rational resolution.


There is also a strong artisanal thread running through the building – the large hanging light was made in a studio around the corner and carried down the street. The furniture throughout is sourced by the architects, and including everyone from Eames and other mid-century designers to contemporary names – ‘not that much more expensive’ than buying one or two single options, says Selgas. Referring to the adaptability of the board room/events space in particular,  he adds, ‘moving things around is part of the history of the building.’ Adaptability is central to Second Home, and Silva and Aldenton have seen the fast innovation patterns of companies, who pay a membership fee, rather than be locked into 5 year leases. As the mix of businesses present changes and expands, the duo plan to take on another space. ’The curves are one of the best things for insulating sound’, Silva feels.


The architects reconfigured the warehouse, a reinforced concrete structure, demolishing the mezzanine and rebuilding it in a cut away form, creating a single rear studio surrounded by two floors of offices where the mezzanine used to cut through. Now the views cut from front to rear of the 914 x 1219m space in one big transparent sense of creative activity, buffered only by the rows of hydroponic plants which help to create a sense of sanctuary in each of the work spaces. The restaurant is contained in a pod-like conservatory at the front of the building. The reinforced concrete is left bare, and since the architects favoured affordable materials, the heating and cooling budget was the biggest cost. Ribbed coloured plastic is used in the Ashkenasi-inspired restaurant in a continuous swathe, for seating, floor and wall.


Second Home is on Hanbury Street, the east side of Brick Lane between Indian sari shops, an area that is not in gentrified Shoreditch (to the west) but in the deprived area of Whitechapel. Here the only contemporary buildings are the Idea Store library by David Adjaye and the extension to the Whitechapel Art Gallery, by Robbrecht and Daem. Some find the façade of Second Life incongruous alongside its neighbours, but

most find the interface with the outside world a stimulating one. Hopefully Second Life will fulfill an urban acupuncture role in this sense and extend to further premises, diversifying the offer to lend a hand to local people of differing incomes, and thereby helping to regenerate, rather than only gentrify this area of east London waiting for a brighter future.

Lucy Bullivant

Photography: © Iwan Baan

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