A Coworking Space for Architects

Get the scoop on the first coworking space in the U.S. designed with the AEC industry in mind.

Image via Death to Stock.
Image via Death to Stock.

For as much as we talk about coworking, there’s one big segment of our readership who probably thinks, That’s nice, but not for me: the entire AEC industry. The founders of Covo, a coworking space in San Francisco scheduled to open in June, have set out to change that. They’ve teamed up with Good Design, a collective of SF-based designers, engineers, and architects with a yen for coworking, to outfit their space with essentials like plotters, a materials library, and continuing education programming. We reached out to Daniel Brian, co-founder and COO of Covo, to find out more.

What inspired you to create space for the AEC community within Covo?

It was all a happy accident. When we started Covo, we had no idea that there was any need, or appetite, for a coworking space with AEC services. We just wanted to create a coworking space that was fully integrated into the community and that augmented the user experience with multiple retail elements (coffee shop, café, and tap room).

We only added AEC services because we met the right people at the right time: Bill Worthen and Kyle Pickett. Bill and Kyle live right down the street from Covo’s future home, and spent most of 2014 concepting a San Francisco coworking space for AEC professionals. They aspirationally called their concept Good Design, and had collected dozens of architects, designers, consultants, and engineers who wanted to cowork. All Good Design was missing was a home.

It was perfect timing. We had a beautiful building, the Covo vision and the experience of opening and operating nine previous coworking spaces. Good Design had a nascent coworking community in need of a home. There was an instant love connection.

The main floor of Covo. The space is currently under construction and scheduled to open in June 2016. Image courtesy of Covo.
The main floor of Covo. The space is currently under construction and scheduled to open in June 2016. Image courtesy of Covo.

Will Good Design be a separate space within Covo — and have an entirely separate membership, with members sitting separately — or will everyone just be a member of Covo (or a drop-in Covo user), with access to amenities that happen to be AEC specific?

Every member of our space will be a Covo member, whether they came to us through Good Design or not. All members will be the same.

Where the Good Design influence will really be felt is in Covo’s buildout and in Covo’s amenities.

Buildout: Our design team— architect, MEP, acoustics, lighting, and so on — is almost entirely comprised of Good Design members. Led by architect Jane Cee [of Cee Architects], they’re the top people in their respective fields, and it is humbling to watch them unleash their genius on the Covo buildout. I can unequivocally say that there is nothing better than a design team that is motivated to build its own future home.

Most mobile workers — lawyers, designers, software engineers, and the like — don’t need anything more than the standard coworking space provides. That’s not the case for architects.

Amenities: Our goal in adding AEC amenities is not to make Covo an AEC-only community; it’s to make Covo just as useful for the AEC workers as it is for the rest of our members. Most mobile workers — lawyers, designers, software engineers, and the like — don’t need anything more than the standard coworking space provides. That’s not the case for architects. They need plotters (big-ass printers), materials libraries (fabrics, samples, and books of technical specifications), and CAD design stations. They are also required to take continuing education classes in order to retain their professional licenses.

We were able to add those amenities and educational opportunities to Covo easily without taking anything away from what Covo was originally intended to be. Now Covo is set to be first coworking space in the country (maybe the world) that “gets” AEC.

We’re also in the last stages of finalizing a partnership with a local maker space that is right down the street, so in addition to the amenities Covo provides on-site our members will also have deeply discounted access to laser cutters, 3-D printers, and much, much more.

What size firm or group is ideal for the space?

I think our space will be most useful for small companies that are between one and six people. Those firms really struggle to compete with larger architecture and design firms because they don’t have the resources to have their own plotters or to curate their own materials library, which will make Covo membership extremely valuable to them. Moreover, if small firms working out of Covo get the opportunity for a big job, they can join forces with other small firms within our community so they don’t have to turn those jobs down.

That being said, its also looking like many of our members will be small teams from larger companies — from furniture manufacturers to engineering firms — that want a presence at Covo. Those companies are excited because Covo will give them access to the two types of people it will have in spades: trend-setting millennials from fast-growing startups and small AEC firms who until now were very hard for those large companies to reach en masse. So it seems like our community will feature a nice cross-section of the design community.

Covo's founders are currently giving tours of the space to anyone interested in joining. Image courtesy of Covo.
Covo’s founders are currently giving tours of the space to anyone interested in joining. Image courtesy of Covo.

Since Covo isn’t going to be entirely design-based groups, are you capping the number of AEC folks who can join, to keep a good mix in the space?

We think that there is a lot of value in having a diverse membership. That’s what makes coworking such a transformative movement. And architects, ultimately, are no different than other small business owners. No matter what your business is, it’s always useful to have a lawyer, web designer, or accountant right down the hallway. So we do plan on ensuring that Covo’s membership is as broad as possible.

But I don’t think we’ll need to cap the number of AEC folks who can join. It’s likely to happen organically. For every engineer who joins because of our AEC focus, we’ll likely have someone else join just because they think Covo is beautiful or they like that it has a coffee shop and wine bar.

Based on the people you’ve had sign up so far, what’s the mix like as far as AEC goes? More architects? More engineers?

Its a total grab-bag. We’ve had architects, sustainability consultants, sustainable finance people, and more. And our non-AEC membership is even more diverse. From a bookkeeping service and mechanical engineer to a gluten-free bread manufacturer and a local (and popular) Burmese cuisine restaurant group. It’s pretty amazing.

How many people in total can Covo support?

As for monthly members, we’re looking at just around 250, in a combination of private offices, dedicated desks, and open seating memberships. But anyone will be able to work on Covo’s main floor — the coffee shop and tap room will be open to the public, and we’ll be able to host events for anywhere from 10 to 200 people.

So to really answer your question, we hope that Covo will be able to support our entire local community, not just our 250 members. That’s what we’re most excited about at Covo; being a vibrant, integrated member of the community, not a members-only club that’s separate from its neighborhood.

Image courtesy of Covo.
Image courtesy of Covo.

What sort of early feedback are you getting from the AEC community?

Mostly they’re really enthusiastic! They are also giving us TONS of unsolicited design advice. But we figure that’s par for the course, and frankly a lot of that unsolicited advice has been brilliant, and we’ve stolen it shamelessly.

Still on track to open in June 2016?

We are! We just received zoning approval from the San Francsico Planning Commission on January 7th. We’re beginning our buildout the second week of February, and will open at the beginning of June. We can’t wait.

If somebody reading this wants to sign up or talk to you for more info, what steps can they take?

First step, they should go to our website. It has a ton of information on Covo, and should answer most of their questions. It will also give them an opportunity to sign up. And if they so fast enough they may be able to snag one of the final “founding member” spots we reserved for our first 25 members. Those founding members get about $2,000 in additional perks, most notably a $250 bar tab!

They can also reach out to me at [email protected], or sign up for our Champagne tour, which is just what it sounds like: a tour of our space and a glass of Champagne. I thought we might get some pushback on Champagne from potential members taking early morning tours, but so far no tour has been too early for a potential member to refuse a free drink!

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