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Interviews

Seismic shifts- Designing for change the Cutwork way.

Change management, a concept that has resulted in thousands of books, strategising how to cope, adapt or resist change. But we live in a society where the rule book's been thrown out, where society is moving in a new direction. In many ways, designers are at the forefront of understanding and responding to these shifts.
Cutwork Studio, an interior design and architecture firm, understand this, you could argue that they are pioneers in responding to an ever-evolving society. Contributors to Station F, the worlds largest co-working and enterprise hub, and the minds behind its new sister project, Flatmates, the Parisian studio are not only keeping up with the change they are shaping it. We had a conversation with studio founders Kelsea Crawford and Antonin Yuji Maeno about both projects and what it means to design for the future.

Kelsea Crawford and Antonin Yuji Maeno Co-founders of Cutwork Studio, sitting on the furniture they designed for the Flatmates project.
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Kelsea Crawford and Antonin Yuji Maeno Co-founders of Cutwork Studio, sitting on the furniture they designed for the Flatmates project.

Tell us in your own words about Cutwork, and what your mission is?

Cutwork is an architecture and design studio focused on new ways to live and work. Society and life are undergoing radical changes. We are driven to design for the new ways of doing things, to create spaces that foster communities.

What was the brief for Flatmates and how does it relate to Station F?

Station F, the largest startup campus in the world, houses over 1000 startups alongside the European headquarters for global companies such as Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft. It is an immense community of entrepreneurs. They recognised that housing has become a significant issue, especially for the youngest generation in the workforce. In a space-wide survey, they found that 41% of their own, Station F community faced housing problems.

This also bought around the realisation that they could provide an innovative solution to help support their members. We were asked to design a whole new environment that fosters and builds upon Station F's sense of community while also supporting individual ways of living. We utilised our patented production technologies to create a unique interior and custom furniture for the shared space.

Flatmates provides housing for 600 individual Station F members across 100 shared apartments.
Flatmates provides housing for 600 individual Station F members across 100 shared apartments.

What was your approach to such a brief, how do you dissect it to understand what information is critical?
As we are working in a section of the market that has rapidly exploded over a very short space of time, we work very collaboratively with the client when putting together the brief. The first and most critical step is understanding the DNA of the client's brand and the community or market they want to cultivate within their space. This usually isn't apparent in a project brief, so we hold a workshop with them to excavate the details. Such values help us understand the unique characteristics and specialities of the space, which we can then use to make our designs more impactful and supportive for its users.

From this point, we research references, exploring and expanding the different directions a project could go in. Through discussion with the client and internal debate, a clear vision of what we want to achieve with the project emerges, and we can boil that information back down into a set of fundamentals. This becomes our soundboard, continually referring back to it throughout the project to validate developments. In this regard, the brief is typically only a small part of the picture, a launchpad from which the project can effectively grow.

Cutwork designed 9 the interiors of 9 different apartment types, creating furniture that would work for 6 individuals and a community.
Cutwork designed 9 the interiors of 9 different apartment types, creating furniture that would work for 6 individuals and a community.

Do you find you have to convince clients of the importance and impact of societal change in their design?
The co-working and co-living markets are so heavily focused on community, that societal considerations are usually high on the agenda for our clients from the beginning. As a studio, we are excited and inspired to work with pioneering companies who are reimagining the ways we live and work. So we tend to find a natural synergy and mutual understanding with the clients who come to us.

Was one easier to design than the other between Station F, a co-working space or Flatmates, for co-living?
For Station F, we were given a particular set of challenges and pain-points that needed resolving. Such as: "how can we help bring people together and foster community in such a vast open space?" We designed two types of meeting spaces (formal and informal) to draw people from companies into shared spaces. The scope of the project was more straightforward in this regard, compared to Flatmates, which was much more about starting from a blank canvas with a higher degree of complexity.

The challenges included questions such as "how do we design a flexible space that can adapt to the needs of very different lifestyles and types of interactions?" Also, "how can space and design better support the emerging needs of shared urban living and new kinds of communities?" These questions were more abstract and thus took more work to develop specialised solutions for.

Each apartment is shared by 4-6 residents they have their own compact space in for form of a bedroom sharing a bathroom, kitchen, living room and outdoor balcony.
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Each apartment is shared by 4-6 residents they have their own compact space in for form of a bedroom sharing a bathroom, kitchen, living room and outdoor balcony.

Even though they are both co-spaces, I imagine there is a significant difference between what is expected of a space where you're living together than one where you work together?
The two spaces share similar challenges but in different ways. The home is often a much more personal and intimate space where people would feel a greater sense of belonging, comfort, and ownership. Designing a living area to be shared by strangers with different lifestyles is a challenge.

However, in the case of these two projects, they both benefit from their mutual connection- Flatmates is only available to members of Station F. This way the shared community and ecosystem can enhance the social experience across the two distinct types of spaces.

What's the key to designing for so many individuals, such as in a co-working and co-living environment?

You have to think about shared spaces from traditional spaces. Society has changed, the rise of the freelance worker, the fall of the mono-nuclear family; these things all affect the way this generation lives and works. Thus, we have to change the way we understand and design spaces for them.

In terms of balancing the importance of the individual while supporting a strong community atmosphere, it's important to remember that to work, let alone live together in shared spaces, it's essential to have the possibility to be alone. Providing a diverse range of mini-environments within the overall area and enabling flexibility for the space to adapt to different dynamics is vital. Designing solutions around this idea allows people to adjust their surroundings to what is needed, both on an individual and group level.

Over 5000 furniture pieces were designed, or purchased and delivered to Flatmates.
Over 5000 furniture pieces were designed, or purchased and delivered to Flatmates.

What do you think are the critical things that this sharing generation wants both from their living and working environments?
A feeling of flexibility and choice has become very important. A space that can react to you and fit around your needs, providing a seamless experience that allows you to live and work the way you want. We always aim to create spaces that leave room for interpretation, allowing many people to use the space in their way. It also needs to react to emerging needs we can't anticipate for in advance.

The other significant shift in mentality, especially in an increasingly independent, self-made, and freelance workforce is seeking community and meaningful connections. Shared spaces inherently offer the perfect opportunity to foster such relationships and build thriving communities – all of which can be encouraged and supported with thoughtful design.

Why is there such a shift to co-everything and need for multipurpose buildings?
There are a lot of factors driving a shift towards the sharing economy. For one, ownership is being replaced by access. Individuals are more mobile and living more adaptive lifestyles than ever before, so convenience and freedom to do so are essential. The sharing economy gives people that freedom to use products, services, and spaces flexibly when they need to.

This is the first generation to enter the workforce and earn less than their parents at the same age. Rapid urbanisation and rising rental costs of space in cities are amplifying this effect and restricting our generation from even owning a home or adopting former models of life. The sharing economy helps distribute that cost for businesses and saves people money. Lastly, sharing is more environmentally responsible – this generation is demanding a necessary shift towards sustainability and more effective use of resources.

Here is a design for the modular sofa units that Cutwork created for the apartments, its flexibility allows for people to sit together or alone as they see fit.
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Here is a design for the modular sofa units that Cutwork created for the apartments, its flexibility allows for people to sit together or alone as they see fit.

What's next for this movement, what do you think the shared design looks like in the future?

There are many branches of the sharing economy heading off in slightly different directions; some will affect individual lifestyles more than others, which are more focused on financial efficiency. Technology is bringing more and more sectors into play, particularly with the Internet of Things, so it seems very likely that eventually there will be very few areas of everyday life that are not networked, shared, and somewhat communal.

What can designers, architects and suppliers do to stay ahead, or at least respond to these societal changes?

Because change is accelerating and society is so fluid, architects, designers, innovators, and business leaders need to recognise that playing it safe and sticking to the old proven ways of doing things is actually becoming riskier. We need to think about how to be unconventional, experimental, curious, and open to radical ideas in order to stay ahead of the curve and truly innovate the ways in which people use space. While the market's specific needs and activities are ever-changing, two core principles seem to be endlessly valuable:

1) flexibility – to make spaces and products adaptive to various and unexpected needs, and 2) community – to encourage interactions and foster meaningful relationships, along with a sense of belonging.

Although much of the furniture for Flatmates was designed and created exclusively by Cutwork, we have pulled together some products that provide a similar aesthetic to those in the project to inspire any projects you may be working on too:

Design can change lives

When talking with Cutwork, we couldn't overlook their most recent innovation. Cutwork's 'Just add water' refugee shelter, is a far cry from what exists now. It utilises cortex, a rollable concrete, that just needs water to harden and secure in place. The structure can be built in one day and last over 30 years. What's more, two people with no previous building experience can make it without tools.

But more than just answering the need for shelter for a family of 4-6 people, it provides something greater, security. Its walls protect inhabitants from the elements and act as a barrier to some scary realities of living in a refugee camp, such as theft and sexual assault.

For us, this project is the epitome of why design matters, and how responding to societal changes in different ways can improve lives.

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