Editor Jacqui Alexander examines how Airbnb is changing the way that we experience cities, and interpret buildings Read more →
Vacancy can be considered a plague in Western cities. With the exodus of businesses from the city centres, almost one out of five buildings is left unutilised. Whether waiting for demolition, better times, or a new owner, for most of them the state of emptiness cannot last long if decay is to be prevented.
Whilst in the waiting line they go through new incarnations; many are given another chance by being repurposed to house creative economies. At first, cheap short-term rental contracts used as security by owners or intermediaries are directed at poor but trustworthy artists. Soon after, a broader community of so-called “creatives” follows, and the story of the post-industrial studio incites the self-fulfilling prophesy of gentrification. This in turn generates a demand for new, cheaper spaces and the market machine starts again.
Rotterdam, as a city with a significant post-industrial history, is a great case study in which to examine this cycle. There are many successful examples of reoccupation, and an equal amount of critique regarding the impact on the social tissue of these so-called ‘creative factories’ and the problem of segregation they create. At the same time, emergent organisational structures keep adopting alternative management models building new relationships between the people who share the working spaces.
In this visual essay we look at the desks – the minimum rental unit in these spaces and the most private space available – as a starting point to tell the stories of these buildings and the co-habitations they house. Perhaps it is a story of limbo, as the people, the buildings and the city enter a new unknown stage.
Length of tenancy to date: 3 years
Type of contract: initial 3 years, 6 month extensions
Facilities: internet, kitchen, toilets, cleaning of shared spaces, rooftop terrace with garden, bar, meeting room, security, insurance, electricity, water, gas
We moved to this office mainly because we liked its location nearby Rotterdam’s central train station and the idea of being in the same building with other young offices. At first we attended a ‘space-dating’ event to find the right group of people with whom we would like to share the space. We chose to team up with architects and an artist whose desk has later been taken by a web developer. Now, being in the same room with them makes us exchange ideas, share practical stuff (especially lunch) and stories. It would be better if the interaction in the whole building between the rooms and the floors wasn’t so limited. Because of security we all have to have our own door, which does not make it easy to just walk into other offices to chat and see what they are doing. There is a café and a bar on the ground floor, and a rooftop for lunch or a cigarette break, but we miss the casual meeting space where you just run into people. Being in such a building does not directly bring in new projects, because as urban designers we are at the end of the line, but you do get to know a lot of new people, and that helps in building up a network. Not in an ‘I rent you, you rent me’ kind of way, but a more organic one.
Length of tenancy to date: 3 years
Type of contract: temporary contract, renewed once a year
Facilities: small kitchen, toilets, exhibition space, cleaning (shared per floor)
This space is shared by four different companies. We all have our desks here and some extra space for model making and lunch. It is our goal to slowly upgrade the facilities, but it’s very hard to plan when you don’t know how long you will be allowed to stay at a place. When we came in we first built this big closet; last year we painted the walls. The floor is still on our ‘to do’ list. Where possible, we try not to invest in the space itself. We prefer to spend the money on things that could move with us to another studio, like prototypes of furniture we designed recently, which we will bring in here soon as a practical showcase of our work. Actually, I think it’s nice to have an environment that is not finished, that is always in movement and constantly evolving. We also move a lot ourselves for projects all over the country and abroad. That’s another reason why our office is so lightweight and centrally located. Usually such a convenient spot would be very expensive, but because it is temporary we have the opportunity to be here at a very affordable price.
Length of tenancy to date: 1.5 years
Type of contract: temporary contract
Facilities: internet, archive, individual storage, bar, meeting room, access to projectors and TV screens for meetings, small exhibition space, big central storage, electricity, water, gas
The Slaakhuis building has actually just recently become a national monument. Originally, it was the headquarters of Rotterdam’s main socialist newspaper, but before we moved in, it was a snooker palace. It seems that the Crisis has made it difficult for the new owners of the building to proceed with their redevelopment plans, so we can probably stay here for some time. There is a mix of people here, which in fact was quite intentional. The original vision for this space was to have a particular self-propelling little world. We are working on a lot of projects together. We are trading off our skills and help here and there. Speaking of practicalities, of course, the more people in the same studio the more dirty dishes laying around but other than that, it’s all fine! On Tuesdays we have a communal lunch with a presentation on the current projects, which keeps us all up to date with the work we do. There is nothing to hide from each other. You never know when you might get some extra input on your project or someone will come up and say: “Oh! I can hook you up with this person!” So Tuesday is the day!
Length of tenancy to date: 2 years
Type of contract: commercial contract, possibility to renew
Facilities: internet, small kitchen, toilets and shower, electricity, water and gas, small cantine
In the old days, this building used to be a school turned into a car garage, turned into a (still transforming) creative studio space. My office has thus far been the latest structural addition to the building but we are currently in the middle of new rearrangements. The ground floor has so far been available as a common-use space but we are now thinking how to divide the volume of the building anew. Together with the owner we want to make a new, better distribution. Right now there is a big workshop shared by three people and a bunch of individual studios that are not cheap. At the end of the day we are paying commercial prices, because we split the cost of spaces that could be rented externally for a project-based term. As a studio space this place is rather expensive but it also has its advantages, mainly social.
It also has an off-center location and a peculiar relation with the neighbourhood. Once there was a SWAT raid in the building. We were carrying some tools inside; someone thought they were guns and called the police. They closed off the whole street and invaded the studio, fully armed with their guns pointing at the people who were here at the time. It was a very awkward situation that eventually created a sense of respect between us and the neighbours. Even now, they remember that incident and keep showing their support.
Duration of stay: 1.5 years
Type of contract: service contract
Facilities: gas, electricity, water
When, as Mesh Print Club, we were looking for an address, we built a range of mobile devices and went around. We installed ourselves in the city’s galleries as a mobile Mesh Print Club operating at a place for four weeks at a time. This way we received a lot of publicity and somebody proposed that we could move into this building. At this point, we can be kicked out every 3 months, so the situation is not very stable, but with the crisis, that happening it is quite unlikely. Together with other people in the building we share a big workshop in the basement that allows us to do really nice things. I love to work like this; it’s much better to have a big common workspace than a space only for you. I think spaces of this type will be the future of Rotterdam. We don’t have so much of a professional relation with the other occupants of the building, just a friendship. We share a laugh, our worries, and sometimes open lunch events that everyone can join. Actually, I met my girlfriend during one of those events, so really nice stories can come out of such interactions.