Creative Times And Spaces: Co-Working In Stockholm

Paulina Liffner von Sydow, Photo: Martin Henningsson

Us Stockholmers like to think of ourselves as a creative bunch, repeatedly launching new ventures that enhance the quality of life of everyone, all over the world. How true this is is debatable, but at least we have figured out that creative environments bolster creativity. Over the last year Stockholm has been blessed with another two creative spaces, hosting a variety of brands and creative minds.
Whatever you wish to launch, doing it in a building repeatedly proclaimed Stockholm’s ugliest is kind of a tough starting point. The Brutalist Östermalm building that previously housed the KTH School of Architecture, which is kind of ironic in itself, is now enjoying a new lease of life. Since last year, it’s been known as A house, a project housing creative minds and the brands they make up with an added public feature in the form of restaurants and cafés.

Meanwhile, about a ten-minute walk away, the building that once upon a time housed Beckmans School of Design has again returned to being a creative hub. Named Alma, the Nybrogatan address has become a member’s club for creatives and entrepreneurs. Fredrik Carlström, one of the people behind the initiative, explains that the idea is to occupy a void he had noticed in Stockholm: “Stockholm is one of the most creative places in the world, but at the same time we felt it lacked a natural meeting space for people working in the creative fields”.

Just as in the case of A house, inspiration has been drawn from creative spaces around the world like NeueHouse in New York. Alma’s criteria to gain admission is that you must work in a creative field – such as design, fashion, architecture, music or the media.

With these two new additions to the Stockholm creative landscape, it seems like the co-working space concept is evolving into some kind of a business-meets-members-club vibe. Hopefully a string of good collaborations and great ideas will be birthed at these two respective addresses.

Alma

Alma want to provide a space for inspiration, social interaction, and professional development for people in the creative industries. We hooked up with founder Fredrik Carlström to get more information.

Could you talk me through the journey from having the idea to actually opening up Alma?

A friend of a friend had a building in Stockholm and asked for ideas for what to do with it. During the meeting another building came up – Nybrogatan 8 – and we switched gears and re-developed the original idea for this new space. We saw it for the first time on November 24 in 2015, and we had our first tenant move in October 3, 2016, so things moved extremely quickly. As creative director, my job was to make it difficult, to push for the best designers and architects, to buy great furniture and lighting, get our own ceramics, special order and custom made. It drove some people nuts, but I think the result speaks for itself. Whether you like it or not, Alma stands for something and has a clear point of view.

I understand NeueHouse in New York has been an inspiration?

NeueHouse was one of many places we looked at, and although they got a lot of things right, I was just back there a few weeks ago and I was struck by how dated and raw their design feels. I am pleased that Alma feels much more refined and comfortable. I think most other spaces lack a point of view in their design expression. I am very proud that Alma feels unique in that way.

What is the overall aim of this project and what can it bring to Stockholm?

When we set out to build Alma, we asked ourselves a lot of questions. Can a physical space inspire creativity? Can it foster collaboration? Can a place cater to the blurring lines of work and play? To boil it down – how do we work better together? We hope that Alma can be a space where people want to spend time, feel comfortable, inspired and maybe a bit spoiled. I am also really happy that we are bringing some new design to Sweden and that we are selling De La Espada, PP Mobler, KBH, Wästberg and Austere from the shop at Alma.

Who do you cater for and is this type of venture the way forward for creatives who can inspire each other to greatness?

We want to provide a space for inspiration, social interaction, and professional development of people in the creative industries. In the beginning there was something lost in translation. In Swedish a “creative” (kreatör) typically refers to a copywriter or an art director at an advertising agency, but that was not what we meant. We define creative industries more broadly and our members come from mixed backgrounds including architecture, design, film, food, fashion, journalism, literature, retail, dance, finance, media, tech, science and the arts.

You say you want this to become an institution, in the future what do you think will be the hallmarks that characterise a project that has evolved at Alma?

Without saying too much, there are already a few businesses that have been conceived at Alma – our General Manager Anna Behring Lundh calls them “Alma babies”. And it makes sense that they would be talent focused, creative businesses that synthesise disciplines into new solutions. One thing we have talked about is that Alma could become a virtual consultancy or creative studio. One where a person or company could give a problem to the house and we would put together a team of Alma members to solve it. That would be really exciting.

A House

On their website they state that: ”A house is a refined machinery for creative development within the areas of media, fashion and food”. We spoke to COO Tua Asplund to find out more.

Let’s start by explaining the idea of A house. Why did it come into existence, and what was the purpose behind it?

A house is a multi-purpose space designed for creatives within fashion, food and media, with the main purpose being to bring people together. We have a mix of larger companies, smaller teams and solopreneurs. Our members come from diverse backgrounds and they all contribute to our community of innovation and creativity.
Behind A house we are a team from different backgrounds. We often have different opinions and views, but we share and love the big picture of the creative space. A house is developed on behalf of, and in close dialogue with, the owner Akademiska Hus, with the intention to connect academic research to food, fashion and media industries.

As for creative spaces, did Stockholm lack environments where creative tenants can coexist and influence each other’s work?

Creative spaces are in itself nothing new. Previously, this has happened in hotel lobbies, art galleries, bars, sport clubs. It is based on a sense of community and belonging, human beings have a great need for affiliation. A place like A house facilitates the meeting of creative tenants since it is based on cooperation and offers an environment with a greater sense of community, as well as adding the elements of innovation, art, music, creativity and business.

You are expanding commercially by adding a new café and bakery very soon. What will this bring to A house and what other things do you have in the pipeline?

The co-work area of A house is one part of our creative multi-purpose space – exclusive to our members. Food and beverages is another, more public, part. Mr Cake is opening up in September and will be open to the public. Service will begin early and run through the day, with a menu offering both excellent pastries but also breakfast, lunch and brunch. A house is a concept on how to gradually re-discover the ideal place to work, be, meet, eat, engage and generate development. For that we need different parts, all with the purpose of bringing people together. A house will not be complete before 2020 and our journey will continue with restaurants, bars, labs, units for production and a 1,000 square metre new public lobby.

The building has been dubbed Stockholm’s ugliest, I assume you don’t agree?

The building is a brutalist icon that used to be the School of Architecture. It occupies an entire block a seven-minute walk from the city centre, in the posh area of Östermalm. It is an alien in its urban context. I like places that provoke a feeling, whether it is positive or negative. Brutalism has been brutally criticised and our building is no exception. Raw concrete is very – well, raw. It’s down-to-earth, honest, it may be perceived as unwelcoming or even intimidating but also has its own impressive visual power.

What would you say is the overall aim of A house? How will the average Stockholmer perceive A house when the project has matured in a few years? And what might develop from your tenants that will have a lasting effect on the rest of the city?

A house’s starting point is that innovation today is a matter of dialogue, networks and interdisciplinary connections. A house is therefore connecting carefully selected partners – smaller companies, solopreneurs and creatives – for collaboration, where researchers from academia and expertise from larger corporations are commonly invited. The focus is to develop – all according to the radical ideas that once built the building – the basic human needs – food, shelter and clothing, adding community to mark that an obvious starting point today has to be that the world has become digitalised.

We want to gather the most interesting people we can think of and build a strong community. We’re only as good as the people we get to work with. The aim is to balance the public side of things and the private ‘member’ parts of the building in a good way, welcoming both our members and their guests as well as the average Stockholmer.

Voices from the inside

Karün

“Karün is an upcoming eyewear brand from Patagonia, Chile. We make high quality eyewear with natural and/or recycled materials from Patagonia, while working together with local rural communities. Every frame has a direct impact on people and planet, and serves as a symbol, to inspire people to see the world from a different point of view, to inspire change.” – Colja van Haaren, Karün Eyewear

How come you made the move to the A house building?

We got in touch with some passionate people from Grow and Spoil Concept last year. When we decided to settle our European offices in Stockholm, the choice of location was pretty obvious for us. Centrally located, full of dynamism and close to people we collaborate with, there was no better choice.

How has this environment compared up to your expectations and how do you think A house has impacted your work and creative process?

I strongly believe that A house presents a unique environment for a starting brand. Working in the same building as our PR agency and communication agency is an advantage, and being surrounded by curious and creative people forces us to tell, think and reflect about what we are doing. As a result, a dynamic of continuous improvement has settled, while being able to build up a solid network. The A house certainly provides a great environment for Karun.

Little Liffner

“Little Liffner handbags are designed in Stockholm and made in Italy. We try to make refined and street smart handbags that don’t come with the price tag of a two-week vacation. The Little Liffner girl is confident in her own skin and feels no need to show off labels.” – Paulina Liffner von Sydow

How come you made the move to the A house building?

I worked with the stylist Naomi Itkes who introduced me to this great place. It happens to be very close to my home and cover all my current business needs, with flexibility being top priority.

How has this environment stacked up to your expectations and how do you think A house has impacted your work and creative process?

I find the environment inspiring in its crude calmness, the building is massive and cool and the atmosphere is not too fussy, for me it’s a place to get things done!

Johan Ronnestam

“I’m a creative director, speaker and entrepreneur. In A house I have offices both for my brand consultancy ronnestam.com and a new design agency called Rost. Another company I’ve founded, the design brand Baux www.baux.se also has its offices here. Baux delivers sustainable acoustical design products for offices and public environments.” – Johan Ronnestam

How come you made the move to the A house building?

Baux was growing quickly, but the growth is hard to forecast and we need a flexible office solution. With this in mind it’s been a challenge for us to find a solution that matches our brand profile. The vibrant and creative feel of A house provided this for us. As we moved Baux into A house I also fell in love with the place and decided to move in with my other companies as well.

How has this environment stacked up to your expectations and how do you think A house has impacted your work and creative process?

They say culture is in the walls of your office and A house manages to awaken that feeling. A house feels like my office. That’s the best part of it. When you have clients over they sense this.

Words: Peter Steen Christensen