Around the world, self-employment is on the rise, with many knowledge workers renting desks in so-called "hubs". But while these shared workspaces are commonplace, a property experiment in Lucerne is making a splash with a space that actually facilitates collaboration
Turn left out of Lucerne train station. Head away from the crowds, the lake, the picturesque Kapellbrucke. It doesn't take long for the bustle to give way to quiet, modern, less charming streets. But look in the windows of the shops you pass: you'll see quirky jewellery, sharp design, a freshness that stands in welcome contrast to the Altstadt tourist traps. And in a 1960s building on Bireggstrasse that isn't mentioned in any guidebooks, something truly intriguing is going on.
"Neubad Luzern" is out of date. Originally built to attract American tourists, it attracted around 1,500 visitors a day for the first two years. Then, business tailed off until it finally closed in 2012, replaced by a modern pool and spa. The city of Lucerne, as landowner, plans to redevelop the site for residential use; but with financing and planning considerations in play, that won't happen for a while.
Old buildings standing empty are a nightmare. They attract squatters and drug users. They fall apart. With redevelopment a few years away, and the building's facilities slowly falling apart, there isn't much you can do with them ... especially with a building that largely comprises empty swimming pools. Right?
What's new in Neubad
Walk through the doors and you enter a vibrant, welcoming, thoroughly unconventional space. There's a children's play area and lounge to your right--come in the mornings and you're likely to see local mums connecting over a coffee. Ahead and to the left, a colourful, stylish bistro and bar (with free wifi, homebrewed beer and homebaked bread). The walls are covered with graphic black-and-white murals, whose stark lines reflect the building's rigid geometry.
It's all unexpectedly cool ... for a condemned building. The real business of the Neubad experiment is taking place in the back of the building, in between rows of old lockers, where the changing areas used to be. And upstairs. And--yes even in those empty swimming pools. This is where self-employed people of all kinds, artisans and inventors and entrepreneurs and NGOs, are establishing a special co-working space.
Of course, there's really nothing unusual about flexible, rent-a-desk workspace. Even if some of these...