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As part of The Disruptors series highlighting the big thinkers, risk takers and innovators within commercial interior design, Mix speaks to Caro Lundin – co-founder of neighbourhood coworking provider ARC Club.
Born from a desire to create a new, accessible workspace for people displaced from traditional working patterns, ARC Club was the brainchild of Lundin and business partner Hannah Philp, finally realised just weeks before the world went into lockdown in 2020.
As the landscape of work became more flexible than ever, many workers had a new freedom to decide where they wanted to work – and, not surprisingly, they chose to stay local. As the monotony of working from home began to creep in, neighbourhood workspaces such as ARC Club offered an ‘in-between’ or ‘work-near-home’ space without the commute.
As well as ARC, Lundin heads up her eponymous studio, a multidisciplinary architecture and design studio focusing on commercial and residential interior as well as small scale architecture. Here, she shares her experience of creating a community, shaking up the coworking industry and her philosophy of ‘good design for all.’
ARC Club is a neighbourhood workplace in London geared towards hybrid working. We currently have two venues – one in Hackney and one Camberwell. In 2018 I was on maternity leave dying to get back to drawing. I had previously worked in a bigger practice on the other side of town, working on larger commercial projects and longed to set something up on my own and to get stuck into something more meaningful. I met with Hannah Philp, (ARC Club CEO) in the spring. We started to brainstorm about creating a new meeting place, close to home for people like ourselves, displaced from the traditional working patterns (before the pandemic there was very few places local to work that wasn’t a cafe, WeWork or Soho house.) We had discovered a growing number of vacant smaller commercial units in areas of the periphery of the city and realised landlords were keen to collaborate. We wanted to inject life to these places – to create a buzzing hub for the neighbourhood.
In 2022 we all know that work can be done from many places and not necessarily a centralised office. There’s really no need to commute to the city every day – everything you need should be in your neighbourhood. And ideally within 15 minutes from your house! ARC is that in-between space – the space you go to when you’re not having to be in the office or when you feel like you can’t get enough work done at home. It was also important to us to come up with an accessible and welcoming design that wouldn’t alienate people and could work equally well for neighbourhood activities such as life drawing classes, bingo for the elderly or as a pop up restaurant.
Having worked on many startups I worked a lot with not only the design & build but brand and the customer experience. For our interiors I drew inspiration from mid-century prefabrication, which allowed ordinary people to bring the vision of a better designed future into their homes. Care has been taken to create elements that can be enjoyed by all local residents and not just members at ARC, through the creation of shared outdoor space and windows and an open aspect that puts everyone on the same footing whether their clocking in for the day or just grabbing a coffee on their way to some other kind of work.
ARC is different from other projects I worked on in many ways – for the first time I have acted as both a consultant and a client. It not only speeds up the process – working closely together with the team; looking at properties, visiting sites, speaking and negotiating with developers. I can quickly assess if we can make the site and floor plate work to align with our business model. As the Creative Director I also have the amazing task of carefully making sure everything we output aligns with our design standards and core brand values. Branded elements are understated in our venues: the humanistic shape of our logo in the rounded legs of custom-built furniture; the bathrooms tiled in ARC yellow. My way of thinking has always been rooted in pragmatism but with a twist. There’s got to be surprise and delight in the design – whether that’s playing with bold colours, designing bespoke architraves in birch ply or experimenting with acoustic materials.
Being a co-founder and a part of the company I get to closely see the spaces evolve and grow as members inhabit them. It’s really exciting and informative to study how people are using the space. I constantly learn from it and get to improve things as we grow.
Starting out it felt natural to investigate what we could do on a smaller floor plate. We stripped everything back and created a layout that would provide the essentials for working – a flexible space for events with lots of natural light, areas for focused work and areas for collaborative work, desks and comfortable seating, a canteen for snacks and take away and a few meeting rooms.
ARC Club is all about design without the excess – we don’t create extra details for the sake of it – form follows function. We use few and simple materials – they’re easy to maintain and will last longer. We take on new developed units that don’t require the entire envelope to be reconfigured. We’re always situated in residential areas near a high street and we’re always on the ground floor, making it easy for everyone to find us and to access the space. The interiors are typically Scandinavian; simple and beautiful.
I really wanted to create a serene working atmosphere – simple but warm with few and honest materials, lots of natural light. I also worked hard sourcing furniture that doesn’t feel like they were built for an industry. A space for work can feel more like a home. I designed our first venue in Hackney pre-COVID but it was launched at the height of the pandemic. As we’ve never been about excess or complicated layouts at ARC it was easy for us to adjust things to begin with – increasing spacing between tables, removing seating etc. but I didn’t account for how big a part video calls and online meetings would be. Spaces I had created for meetings for two people all of a sudden turned into zoom booths – way too big for its purpose. This was something I got the chance to adjust when we opened our Camberwell site three months ago.
We ditched most of our closed meeting rooms and opened up the space for more “informal meetings” in the cafe and we created more banquette seating areas. I also custom designed very small zoom booths that would do the trick for shorter video calls (about an hour) They are only one metre by 80cm and has a small desk and a stool. Zoom booths are normally not the sexiest thing to look at so I wanted to create something joyful. The inside is cladded in cork and the outside is painted in a wonderful light terracotta hue. Oversized yellow door levers.
Looking at the future, I want to develop the zoom booth design and create furniture for private calls. The world of work is changing rapidly and we need to be agile.
Definitely. I think most of us have in one way or another felt the benefits of remote working since the pandemic. It’s great being able to work from home occasionally sometimes but it can be isolating and uncomfortable. Many people in London live in flat shares or generally smaller places and benefit greatly from an affordable workplace around the corner from home. By cutting the commute into the city you get time back to do other things with your time whether that’s picking up earlier from nursery or going to the gym. it’s also wonderful to see local communities flourish.
Hybrid working is here to stay. ARC was my first proper office design project and it’s such an exciting world to explore from an architectural point of view. The future of work and the impact our working environment has on us is something I want to keep exploring.
We’re so excited about the future for ARC. We have some exciting new partnerships and we’re looking to scale. We’ll be opening more spaces in London in the next year.
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