Last year serviced office company WeWork snapped up 120,000m² in central London – a record annual acquisition for a single company, according to commercial real estate specialist CBRE. We talk to design chief Andy Heath about the burgeoning company’s plans
What is your background?
I met WeWork about six years ago when I was living in New York, working for Arup as an engineer. I was then permanently seconded to work for the firm after they asked if we could help them. In 2015, I moved back to London and applied for a job with WeWork and became head of international due diligence before moving to my current design role.
What is your design ethos and does it vary by country?
We have an ethos and a mission statement, but nothing as formal as a framework. We are an international firm with a local playbook. I care about everything we do in our physical space to the extent that furniture is placed face-to-face to start conversations and create links with someone you haven’t met before.
We are a global company – we have worldwide standards and continue to innovate with them. A lot is done by metrics and data – we know the number of desks you need based on floorspace. Our desks are the same globally, and the number of meeting rooms is a function of the number of desks you have.
However, furniture in Israel is different to in the UK and in Germany. I am held accountable by the head of global design to create a local space. Twenty per cent of our furniture is sourced from local vendors, whether it be a flea market or another supplier.
While interior design style will vary by country, we also respond to each building’s individual architecture.
What is the concept behind WeWork and why is it different to traditional serviced office spaces?
I would summarise that by saying we create workspaces to create interaction and a ‘home from home’. This is where my design team spend most focus. It is very important to the way our members interact – they feel free in this home from home, and use amenity space more.
If you feel like that at home, you perform better. It helps us to make a life and not just a living, and that starts with the physical space.
Why the current expansion programme in London?
London is one of our biggest and most important markets in Europe. We identified a need and learned from our experience in New York. When you get a critical mass of members, it influences the design. The bigger our community grows, the more powerful it becomes.
John Robertson Architects’ WeWork office space in Spitalfields, London [stairwell]
How do you go about finding architects and what do you want from them?
I have a team of about 65 now working in-house out of London, covering architecture, interior design, BIM, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing, IT, AV and security, plus arts and graphics specialists.
Our aim is to get our schemes up to RIBA stage 3. Then we find what we call an ‘architect of record’. They collaborate with our in-house team up to and into the construction phase. They can help us source the best and most sustainable building materials and make suggestions on furniture.
I want to stay clean and lean in-house, but nurture collaboration with architects such as, for example, John Robertson Architects at Spitalfields, pulling them in when we needed.
I ask the in-house architects who is cool in the market
I am always looking for architects and the way I do that is often by word of mouth. I ask the in-house architects who is cool in the market.
This is a volume opportunity. I try to collaborate on 10 projects in a market at a time.
Andy Heath leads the WeWork Europe, Israel & Australia WeWork design team