Breakout! Escape from the Office

What happens when coworking spills out into the city?

Why do we still do creative work in office buildings?

In 2009, a convergence of trends brought this question to a head, highlighting the need to re-open debate about the role of work in public space:

  • An increasingly mobile workforce attracted to a wide range of public and private work sites, from coffee shops to park benches.
  • Ubiquitous wireless broadband, smart mobile devices, and location-aware social networks that could activate almost any urban location as a potential worksite.
  • New kinds of organizations, and a growing emphasis on cross-organizational and interdisciplinary collaborations that were creating a greater demand for ad hoc face-to-face collaborative work in creative settings.

Recognizing these trends, and the deep historical relationship between work and the street that dominated before the 20th century’s office building boom, the team behind Breakout! Escape From the Office—Star City Group, DEGW, scholar Laura Forlano, and community coworking group New Work City, with financial support from the Architectural League of New York—developed a set of tools and processes to support knowledge workgroups in urban public spaces.

These tools and processes provided an open source framework for exploring the new opportunities presented by mobile knowledge work for the utilization of urban space space. Spurring a global conversation around these practices that could be appropriated and adapted in urban contexts around the world, treating the diversity of sites, cultures and urban contexts as a rich set of experimental variables. These tools were developed and tested during September and October 2009 in New York City with a variety of locations, groups, and collaborative processes.

This project showed the power of prototyping and rehearsing the future. By asking this simple question we helped set the stage for a revolution that would give rise to community-based coworking, Occupy’s WiFi-powered encampments, and billion-dollar real estate startups like WeWork. A convergence of trends