In recent years, Dublin has lost some of its most important creative spaces to a building boom that’s reminiscent of the Celtic Tiger era.

Block T in Smithfield and South Studios near Cork Street were both closed down in 2016 with a significant loss of square footage for artists, photographers, designers and writers. In their place, however, a new generation of co-working spaces – aimed specifically at servicing Dublin’s creative communities – is coming into being.

Although they have become abundant in many European capitals in the last few years, co-working spaces are a relatively new arrival in the Dublin property market. In the past 12 months the number of these spaces has been growing fast. But before we investigate them, what exactly is ‘co-working’?

These days, many people in the creative industries are independents or freelancers. They are not tied to one particular organisation or company. Previously, many would have worked from home as the cost of renting offices could be prohibitive. A co-working space offers these independents the opportunity to come together and lease a small amount of space – often just a desk – in larger premises. Costs are shared, making the arrangement more affordable.

A new generation of co-working spaces – aimed specifically at servicing Dublin’s creative communities

Such environments foster opportunities for collaboration between like-minded people, further adding to their attraction. The concept’s growing popularity has also made owning and managing co-working spaces a very workable business model, creating an industry in its own right. And now one of the leading industry organisations is to hold its annual conference in Dublin, raising awareness and further cementing the role of these spaces in our city.

Now in its eighth year, the Co-working Europe Conference will be held at Croke Park from 8th-11th November 2017. Previously hosted in cities including Paris, Berlin, Milan and Barcelona, this year the aim is to attract over 2500 attendees who will hear from 50 speakers and panellists. The target audience is co-working space operators, facility managers and real estate pundits as well as representatives from government, education and enterprise development.

Dublin.ie spoke to Jean-Yves Huwart of socialworkplaces.com, the organisers of the conference: ‘the world of work has changed beyond recognition from the time of our grandparents, and the revolution is only really getting started. The advent of new technology has meant that people are no longer tied to a traditional office; affordable portable computers, the proliferation of publicly available wi-fi and cloud-based storage and software mean many of us can now work from anywhere in our city, and indeed, the world.”

Manager, Nichol Gray

Nichol Gray

One of Dublin’s newest co-working spaces is located at the heart of the city on Tara Street. The Tara Building has been fully operational for just four months but has already garnered a reputation as one of the city’s finest. Easily recognisable because of its colourful façade, courtesy of the artist Maser, this is the brainchild of landlord Luke Keily and its current manager, Nichol Gray.

Costs are shared, making the arrangement more affordable

It has a gallery space on the ground floor that hosts various exhibitions throughout the year, a print studio, an impressive roof terrace, a suite of offices, and of course a co-working space. Keily had previously lived in London and Berlin where co-working spaces are much more widespread, and was determined to find a use for the building that not only had a social ethos but was also financially sustainable.

We spoke with Nichol about the philosophy behind the project: “We have a business that’s very culturally focused and puts creativity at the centre of what we do. So many places have been wiped off the cultural map in Dublin with the closure of Block T, South Studios and The Joinery. The co-working model is relatively new, and we’re one of the first to target the creative community. These people don’t necessarily need an easel or a block of marble to chip away at for their practice. Sometimes all they need is a laptop and a small amount of desk space.”

But it’s not just affordability that attracts people to co-working spaces. Although it’s now entirely possible to work from the comfort of your own home, many people choose not to. The idea of having colleagues is still a compelling one. We all need someone to talk to during the day, to share in our little tribulations and celebrations. Collaboration is a natural consequence of our need to share.

Image courtesy of Zak Milofsky

It’s something Nichol is eager to nurture at The Tara Building; “We put a big focus on community as that can be the main draw for somebody who’s considering the available spaces in Dublin, looking for somewhere to settle. Here, there’s a constant feeling of things simmering. I thought that to create a community atmosphere I’d have to manage people and work hard at it. It turns out that it’s a lot more organic than that.”

It’s an attractive prospect, especially to new arrivals to the city. They can instantly find themselves surrounded by a community of workers from different disciplines, but with a shared focus. Nichol continues: “The heart of this space is that we’re based in Dublin. Co-working is a global format, but we are based here, and I would be very slow to forget that. We are Dublin-born, it’s an amazing city, and we celebrate its culture in everything we do.”

Another space that’s relatively new to the co-working landscape of the city is Studio 9, based on North Great George’s Street. It spent fourteen years as an artist’s studio, curated by Joe Coveney and his partner, John O’Connell. They have recently repurposed and relaunched it as a co-working space. We spoke to Joe about the motivation behind the move: “over the last 14 years our practices have developed and our vision for Studio 9 has grown. Our career paths meant that we had the opportunity to live and work in many countries. Taking inspiration from this we relaunched Studio 9 as a creative, shared workspace. Our vision was to create a unique, shared workplace in Dublin city centre. We want to grow a community of freelancers, a network of individuals who develop their own projects or work collaboratively.”

The traditional office space as we know it is becoming less and less relevant. Even larger companies are choosing co-working spaces that have some shared vision rather than opting for dedicated offices. They too see the benefit of having a mix of disciplines and goals in the same shared space. Although the industry may only be getting started, it would seem to have a big future in the city. The presence of one of the industry’s largest conferences can only help to raise awareness and encourage the development of even more spaces for us all to share in the creativity of Dublin.

Connor is an advertising creative and writer who has now lived in Dublin longer than he hasn’t. His mother saw fit to give him two n’s, cursing him to a life of spelling his name aloud for anything even mildly official.

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