Third Wave and Third Space
We’ve all been there. You walk into a café and there are no seats or tables left. Laptop jockeys sit there obliviously, nursing hour old lattes and taking up entire tables. Because of this, at peak periods especially, some coffeeshops have taken drastic action. For example, Store Street Espresso, decided to turn off Wi-Fi between the hours of 11-4 pm on weekdays. The BBC highlighted this problem in a video interview with Lisa their store manager.
Another perspective comes from the Wall Street Journal who recently published an article highlighting the positive outcomes in terms of customer interaction when cafes switch off their Wi-Fi. They found that customers talked more to each other and they even introduced initiatives to encourage conversation between relative strangers.
Café owners have had to firstly think about who it is they want to accommodate. There are different types of café for different audiences. If coffeeshops want to accommodate ‘digital nomads’ hunting for their ‘third space’, they must be creative in their thinking. Over the years several have come up with various solutions such as having a subscription workspace hub totally dedicated to remote workers like at Timberyard in Soho, or the Russian chain café who opened a pay-per-minute café in London in 2014. If this type of solution is not chosen, coffeeshop managers must decide when and whether they should ask one customer to move in order for them to accommodate customers who have bought their coffee and find themselves with nowhere to perch. Not that controversial, but how often does it happen?
Businesses cut costs and allow flexible working by eschewing offices and encouraging staff to wander and work anywhere. Who should pick up the tab for the café office space though? Are we entitled sit for hours having only bought one flat white and set up our office complete with pen holders and a stapler? Should speciality cafés embrace this current way of nomadic working and provide as much as they can (5G, 6G?) to encourage customers to think of café’s as blank canvases where workers can utilise them as they see fit?
The planned Shoreditch Highgate Hotel (Gensler Architects) next to Boxpark, which was highlighted in a New London Architecture exhibition called WRK/LDN, is an example of third spaces on a grand scale. Think of Ace Hotel times 34 stories. This space will “integrate living, working, making, logistics, manufacturing and leisure” and on several levels there will be a need for speciality coffee cafes embedded in these buildings. In the gallery of the foyer of Ace Hotel there are flocks of freelancers enjoying the ambience created by Bulldog Edition. Without Bulldog Edition, it would just be a foyer.
Spaces beyond the ‘workplace’ have always been spaces to ‘work’. Lloyds Coffee House, from the 1680s on, was a place to share news: merchants and ship owners gathered together informally to do business. From this, Lloyds of London was established and several related businesses. Nowadays, workers demand communal spaces whey the can mix and communicate - more like a coffee shop than a structured office environment. In turn, the ‘third spaces’ for work are gradually being reshaped to respond to the way in which we work throughout the city of today –café’s, clubs and hotel lobbies are still places to meet and write. Writing in cafes is itself a whole other subject. We enjoyed Benjamin Wurgaft’s piece on this subject for the LA Review of Books. Cafes and workspaces for creatives are blending into a single unified environment, seen for example in the Timberyard (TY) spaces, whose motto is ‘tea coffee, work and play…Re-imagined’.
One of the recommendations of the next ‘London Plan’ is to ‘Create an adaptable, open and smart city. Research is needed to measure the value of ‘third spaces’, like libraries, cafes and clubs to the wider London economy. Speciality cafés are best placed to be a vital part of the wellbeing of neighbourhood building and ‘pillars of the community’.
New London Architecture (2016). WRK/LDN Shaping London’s future workplaces. London: NLA Insight Study. p7.