Converting Empty Space to Coworking Space


Upon purchasing and developing a building, making the most of all corners of the property may be the most advantageous — not only aesthetically speaking, but financially, too. For mixed-use spaces, often certain parts of the building go vacant and maybe a little desolate-feeling. In abundantly populated residences, a sense of community and gathering adds to the overall esprit for residents while also making a ghost-like lobby or dusty old gym feel revitalized; two birds one property, basically. We’ll show you how and why activating these spaces is not only beneficial for residents, but updating and enhancing common areas can also add to the bottom line. 


Modernist architecture and design as it’s developed, grown, and permeated space and place throughout the past century is not lost on us. But what about a modern way of living, of working, of being within those spaces and places? The abundant ways technology has shifted and altered not just the way we live, but the way we work is undeniable. People are still working, of course, but the way we work and can work has markedly changed. Most notable of this change is the millennial work force, those who have grown up on technology who are either used to or more prone/acclimated to the changing and adaptive ways of working. With many jobs available to lend themselves to working remotely, only needing a laptop and a working internet connection, companies and employers can adjust accordingly. Working remotely or on one’s own terms as a freelancer or independent contractor can definitely bring a sense of desirable freedom and flexibility. Often, though, working from home can leave people feeling isolated and lacking in collaboration, or worse – depressed. That’s why co-working spaces are popping up in urban locales at an alarming rate.

Lead co-working company WeWork reports that by 2050, roughly 70% of the world’s population will live in urban cities. That means not only will we have to re-invent and re-design the way we live, but also the way we work. Aligning with the WeWork ethos of “we vs. me” comes perhaps all of the coworking spaces in the city that focus on community and co-creation. This is not only useful for those who want to escape the isolation of always working from home, but productive for entrepreneurs and creatives who crave the collaboration and bouncing off ideas needed for the inspiration and improvement of projects. This “global phenomenon” is expected to grow at a rate of 16.1% with over 30,000 spaces by 2022, connecting people but also hopefully assisting with the creation of something new and greater at a more global level.

Enclosed enclaves throughout a coworking space provides privacy

Natural light and ventilation can be achieved with good design

Sinergia coworking space in Uruguay (Cred: ArchDaily


So why and how can coworking spaces be significant to the development and re-design of aged settings? When updating existing real estate or developing a new property, often certain spaces get left behind in the dust and become “dead zones” — left as ghost spaces with seemingly no use. You know the ones — the dank gym with broken, outdated equipment and old DVD’s of Richard Simmons Sweatin’ to the Oldies, or the dark, lonely lobby with the plastic plants and rattling radiator. Updating and activating these spaces for coworking use can not only help to enliven them, but might also increase revenue as foot traffic increases. What’s more, revitalizing and preserving old buildings in keeping with historic criteria while incorporating contemporary elements — not only in design, but 21st century ethos — brings a whole new energy to the building, echoing past and future in a harmonious, unique unity.

We put this kind of activated space into effect with our Lawrence House project completed in 2016. The beautiful historic space built in 1928 underwent an immense renovation, with a complete rehab of all the residential spaces, an update on the basement pool to its original art deco splendor, a chic roof deck and lobby space designed for working, collaborating, leisure time, and more. It’s this lobby in particular that echos earlier sentiments of an activated, coworking or social gathering space, replete with plush seating options and communal tables with lamps for concentration. Unlike your typical stale or dull lobby with a sad trashcan and an uncomfortable bench in the corner no one really uses, the Lawrence lobby is a perfect example of how you can transform a space where only ghosts of the residential hotel may hang out to an inviting space that can be aesthetically pleasing. The lobby has spots to sit and work or take in all the splendor with the community of fellow residents, in addition to a coffee shop and a cocktail lounge. You don’t have to be a Lawrence House resident to hang out here; you can come in, enjoy the space, and have a cup of coffee or beer with pals or maybe a first date. This setup serves property owners immensely — residents like having access to the amenities and outside patrons stopping in for a beverage help support the anchor businesses.


As architects, how we approach space planning is strategic and carefully considered. Our program objective focuses on how the space is used and incorporating these important elements to how a space flows and feels is key. Along with Lawrence House, our upcoming coworking project in the West Loop guarantees these concepts of the modern office and collaborative working space in practice. With specific design elements like a restored bow truss ceiling with skylights streaming in natural light, plus keeping some of the original, industrial features of the over 100-year-old building in tact, the project maintains our focus on aforementioned aesthetics with the spacious, collaborative layout of the modern work space to boot.

Larry’s Bar inside the lobby of the Lawrence House (Cred: Chicago Reader)

Stadium seating creates multiple seating options within a small footprint (NeueHouse in New York) 

Meeting pods create a comfortable, semi-private space