INTERIORS+DESIGN for architects
Alice Fung, Co-founder of Hub Westminster
INTERIORS + DESIGN INTERVIEWS

Collaboration is one of the key elements in WAN Workspace Interiors Awards judge Alice Fung's repertoire of work, that has seen her commended for her entrepreneurial flair and community minded ventures. As a co-founder of Hub Westminster and London based architectural practice 00:/ (zero zero) Alice is involved in creating collaborative workspaces that are at once radical and innovative in their nature.

We sat down to discuss the concept of the collaborative workspace and the architectural thought processes of the future.

How did you get into architecture?
"When I was seven I decided that I was either going to be an architect or a lawyer. It was probably something to do with the fact that my father is a structural engineer ... we now joke that it was my way of rebelling."

Where did you study?
"University of Bath for both Part I and II."

What five things influence your work?
"This is a tricky question, but generally people and friends that I respect and inspiring stories around change ... and people who have tried things and done things and given it a go."

What is your favourite building in London?
"The Southbank as a place is a favourite because it is one of the few civic spaces in London, it just comes to life and is supremely democratic in a way that most of our other spaces aren't. [It has] a carnival, Festival of Britain type atmosphere, [that is] really engaging [and that illustrates a] great cross section of the city."

How did the founding of Hub Westminster and Hub King's Cross come about?
"00:/ set up its first official office at Hub Islington (the original Hub), as a result of which we became part of the start up team for Hub Kings Cross. Hub Westminster was a result of development strategies that we at 00:/ were doing for Somerset House, and our interest in institution buildings, which we saw as a combination of our background in the built environment, in space, but also an understanding of community building and business models. That put us on the radar of the economic development officer at Westminster Council."

What is The Hub's place as a global workspace?
"From my personal point of view I would say that The Hub is more a community of people supported by a variety of tools, which include the workspace rather than a workspace per se, but really the ambition is a community supported by physical places called "hubs" which brings likeminded people together as a collection of "change makers" with aligned values, who are collectively building and supporting a movement. For us, the Hubs are trusted environments that enable this collaboration to take place."

It sounds like much more of an ideological collaboration rather than a community fused by profession. Does it make any difference what people are doing at the Hubs in terms of industry?
"No, for us it's not necessarily important what people are doing as opposed to what the outcome is they are seeking. We are not sector specific, not a space just focussed on manufacturing or creativity or art, we include all those people but in fact the common theme is making change. So the outcome whether you are setting up a mobile app business, or an architecture practice, is making change, to make the world better."

How important is the workspace or in this case the "trusted environment" to productivity?
"I would rather ask the question of how the place can accelerate people's initiatives. Our members don't necessarily separate their life values from work so they thrive on being inspired by each other. We focus on shared peer learning and collaboration, like at university where you share knowledge, you learn and grow with others. So the focus is not so much on productivity but on accelerating the kind of change that people are looking to make."

How do you see The Hub as a departure from the traditional office building?
"To polarise the difference from the traditional office would be to define focus. The traditional office is focused on output as opposed to outcome, whereas the open plan space of The Hub encourages collaboration and the improvement of ideas. It doesn't predetermine what the output of the workspace is but rather the outcome i.e. making change. That is something that people share."

Do you see The Hub concept as becoming more mainstream in the future?
"The main ambition is about the behaviour of how people do business, the types of business and the purpose of those vehicles, it's not just about for-profit or not-for-profit, we want to make money but also bring value to the world. So mainstream in terms of activity, yes, but mainstream in terms of becoming the standard office? I don't think it's suitable for everybody. It's a particular style of working but it has a place."

You are one the co-founders of 00:/ in London. What have you been working on lately?
"We operate as a mutual cooperative. Our model of practice is really about the collective as opposed to particular individuals."

"At the moment we are working on a new project in East London called The Open Institute and the idea of that is to bring together a satellite community of people, we would aim for this project to be the next generation of a Hub-like model, by that I mean a civic institution. We have a role in it but it's not a singular role. We believe in leading from behind."

That ties in with the Compendium for Civic Economy that you worked. Can you tell us a little about his project and the civic enterprises involved?
"00:/ and our collaborators were having discussions on the downturn in the economy, and these conversations together with the increasing relevance of the models and work we were doing, led us to raise the question about the ideas and projects that were shaping our neighbourhoods in a civic way. We had been sharing ideas about how to regenerate neighbourhoods and how to understand the role of things like The Hub in our built environment and the workplace and in the context of the economy, current models of business and the role of the public sector in our society. This raised the question, "what are these alternative models?"

"With the book we were trying to show that there is an existing movement of people playing the role of the civic entrepreneur i.e. people that we can learn from in terms of how we approach different levels of expertise, experience and trust when putting a project together. The Hub could be seen as one of the models of this that exists."

Do you think civic enterprise has a place in our future societies?
"Social enterprise has typically been seen as a peripheral activity, an alternative model and also understood as a form of extension of public sector and we are saying no, there is social business / civic enterprise that is a viable model and not necessarily susceptible to the swings we've seen in the existing economy. This window in which people question how we do business, how projects are commissioned, where they come from and how they are built is a key opportunity to show that it's not just a flash in the pan. So yes, I think it will continue to grow if we are able to capture the momentum."

So you really want to promote community and a shared mentality moving forward?
"Yes, and not in the sense of a charitable model but rather civic entrepreneurs as something that is still generating revenue but in a sustainable fashion versus an extraction model. That is sustainable financially, environmentally and socially."

In terms of regeneration, what do you think is the most exciting area of London at the moment?
"Areas such as Brixton village and various places in Hackney that are not so rigid in their structures have allowed projects such as Meanwhile Spaces to emerge as a really viable alternative. The Royal Docks area is currently raising lots of question and it will be interesting to see how that emerges."

You are on the RIBA Validation Panel. What qualities do you consider the architects of the future should possess?
"At a lecture I gave at The Architecture Foundation a month ago I was talking about our role as civic entrepreneurs and what that involves. At 00:/ we are 2/3 architects and 1/3 urban geographers, sociologists, designers etc. I trained as an architect, but over time I've used that at a lens as opposed to a single skill set that I've applied to the projects and enterprises we have been involved in."

"Architects have the skill set to communicate visually, they are technically skilled, can do numbers, words and pictures, they can manifest what an idea looks like, but we constrain ourselves as a profession to not communicate more widely than that. Architects are used as sculptors of buildings rather than architects and there needs to be more contextual understanding in an economic and civic sense and the role of space within that."

Sarah Roberts