One of the points that is consistently raised by Fellows is a space to meet and network with other Fellows in John Adam Street.
As mentioned again on this forum by Peter Bebb who wrote last week wrote, ‘Give free or close to free use of the John Adam Street rooms when these are not being used by fee-payers”.
Previously Fellows have also suggested setting aside one larger room for use on a particular day of the week or month or to increase the size of the Gerard Bar.
The RSA has responded to these suggestions in a number of ways, but essentially my impression is that due to financial and contractual obligations the RSA is unable to consider these suggestions.
However, I believe that this topic is very important and worthy of deeper discussion within the Fellowship and hopefully also with the Fellowship Council.
What do Fellows want to use the space for?
My guess is that when this subject comes up, that Fellows have very different ideas about what sort of space they would like to have, and how they would use a space. For example, some Fellows would simply like a larger space to meet other Fellows in a more relaxed, less pre-arranged way. Alternatively something along the lines of Tuttle Club
, which meets every Friday morning would suit some Fellows has also been suggested.
The RSA has answered this request by Clare Reilly from the networks team kindly arranging a meetup on the first Thursday of the month at the South Bank Centre. There are also similar regular meetings arranged regionally, for example, the South Central Committee arrange and host a monthly get-together called RSA First Mondays in the Portsmouth area.
Are there further opportunities to extend these types of networking events, and are there any Fellows who would like to initiate further events, perhaps more specialised or more local?
Networking plus occasional work space?
Great examples of these types of spaces are exemplified by The Hub and One Alfred Place. Although they offer rather different facilities and atmospheres, they share the common characteristic of providing excellent space to work, meet, network and offer varying degrees of flexibility of use. Mostly these spaces work brilliantly for people who don’t want to take on their own office space, wish to share facilities and create a good professional impression… and be social.
To focus on these two spaces as examples the membership frameworks are as follows:
One Alfred Place
Annual Membership Costs £1500 – one off joining fee £175
There are some ‘out of town’ rates for less frequent use.
They offer a stepped membership based on the number of hours of proposed use. This ranges from £10 per month for 5 hours use to £125 per month for 50 hours use, to unlimited use at £310 per month (£4560 per year!!)
Are there Fellows who would look to the RSA to provide these sorts of facilities, and if so, would they see an RSA run space of this sort more enticing than the existing places?
Fellows at the RSA already enjoy some working space in the Library and in the Gerard Bar, but many Fellows (but obviously not all) feel that this isn’t sufficient. If any changes were possible, and I am very unsure that any are possible, what would those Fellows like to see changed/added here?
Somewhere to hold events and workshops?
The facilities at the RSA are beautiful, but financially prohibitive for anything other than professional, funded events. Would Fellows be more encouraged to initiate more casual spontaneous events and get-togethers if there was some freely available space for that? Not having such a space currently may be discouraging Fellows from arranging smaller, informal learning and sharing based events that would enliven the Fellowship?
Project working Space?
Are there Fellows who are looking for a new type of space? Perhaps a space designed specifically for informal project development and co-design?
There are signs that people are increasingly impatient with online collaboration (because it really is difficult) and are looking for new ways to work together face-to-face. The RSA, The Hub etc and even coffee shops already provide venues for pre-arranged meetings with people. Would a space, which worked around casual, less pre-arranged contact offer Fellows (and others) more opportunity to get to know each other better and increase the chances of developing projects together?
I believe that there are many RSA Fellows who could be described as Social Designers, so I have had a good look at what approach designers in general are taking to their workspaces. It seems that designers are paying more attention to how their spaces work – predominantly to encourage and facilitate collaboration, both accidental and designed.
Example 1 – IDEO – San Francisco Office
According to Bill Moggridge of IDEO, their San Francisco office is changing more and more of their office to ‘project working’ space. He described in a recent talk how they needed less space for individual working and more for collaboration.
“Working with lots of different people from different backgrounds, if you are going to make it work, it is actually pretty difficult. I think there are a couple of factors: the culture and the space, that really matter quite a bit. One of the things we are lucky with is decades of practice in brainstorming. So we get people from different backgrounds to come around a table and think about an issue and very quickly they will come up with a huge number of ideas. We expect to get 100 ideas in an hour – maybe 2 of which are good.
Always think of project rooms rather than individual offices or conference rooms. Project rooms are so powerful because you put everything to do with a project into a space, however rough it is. So at IDEO we have project rooms everywhere and people are working on three or four projects at the same time.”
You can watch Bill Moggridge's full talk here
Workstations are located throughout the open and continuous old warehouse space. It was necessary for the office to be flexible to accommodate the fluidity within the office, as teams would be reconfigured with the completion of projects. Devices such as semi-mobile furniture with casters on one side or mobile walls were incorporated to facilitate modifying the office layout.
Example 2 – Pixar
Famously Pixar artists have their offices in sheds which they personalise and move about on castors to facilitate collaborating on projects.
Example 3 – Stanford University’s Center for Design Research
As described by Christian Basson
“Flat screens are ubiquitous, the walls are all covered with whiteboards, and large notices describing case studies and project descriptions hang beneath the ceiling. Lego bricks lie scattered on the shelves, and in one corner of the room sits the entire dashboard from a German passenger car. On the other hand, there are no partitions separating the various workgroups, and no bookshelf stands more than waist-high.”
There are also a few new types of community spaces springing up which are really interesting.
Example 4 – Backstory Café – Chicago
From their website:
“We believe stimulating public spaces play an important roll in fostering positive social change. Through our programming, we aim to become a hub for creative cultural activity and collective learning.
Situated between the disparate neighborhoods of Woodlawn and Hyde Park, we serve as an inclusive gathering space where people from diverse backgrounds can meet, interact and build meaningful relationships. Please contact us if you have a community event you'd like us to host!”
How could a new types of spaces be developed for RSA Fellows... Should they be considered at all?
Fellows needs and wishes vary widely, and there may be multiple visions for new types of spaces. As mentioned, I think that this is a worthy conversation, and below are some of the questions that might be valuable starting points.
1. Can we start envisioning new spaces? What could those spaces look like?
2. Could new spaces be developed by the Fellows (with some assistance from RSA)?
3. What sort of financial model could be developed? How would a space cope with the complexities of space use that isn’t uniform?
4. Could a movable space be envisaged to take advantage of cheap rents?
5. How would we consider the fact that the Fellowship is spread widely geographically?
6. Could the Fellows create a space that encouraged collaboration of social projects in an inclusive way i.e. not just Fellows?
7. Could Fellows manage the space – giving their time to share duties (even the boring and mundane?) Could we consider this sort of space a community space, rather than a professional, presentable one? Would this make it 'feel' more creative?
8. How many Fellows would use this sort of space? Potentially how many Fellows would it take to create and manage it?
9. Does any Fellow have an empty old warehouse we could use as a trial?
The RSA is SO keen to help Fellows develop projects, start new things, arrange new events. How can Fellows and the RSA work together to create new possibilities, new vehicles of change and new working practices... starting with looking at *space*?
What do Fellows think?