New technologies are enabling start-up companies to emerge in almost every economic activity, with innovations in diverse sectors (ecology, environment, transport, health, business, social networks...). Architecture is no exception: start-ups are improving the way we produce and consume the built environment, replacing outmoded architectural practices.

They present new ways for architecture to function through models better suited for success in an evolving world, where flexibility and responsiveness to change is essential.

Highly accomplished architects are branching-out, quitting traditional practice to take part in this new movement conforming to ongoing 21st-century demands, offering new services. Colonies’ Head Architect Laura Sundin previously worked at Foster+ Partners before creating with the founders Colonies’ in-house Architecture team. Senior Architect Manager Emmanuel Guilloux joined soon after, coming from several years at Herzog & de Meuron.

Colonies’ architecture team designs and operates accommodation under the Colonies’ brand name to reinvent city housing around Co-living. It aims to offer opportunity and diversity, matching candidates with like-minded potential flatmates through tailor-made solutions guided by tenant need. These generally young, active Europeans do not desire or cannot afford living alone and seek city-life opportunity and culture whilst avoiding isolation.

Use of the latest technologies enables ‘newbies’ like Colonies to play amongst the big names. Although founded in 2017, Colonies works closely with several Real Estate companies and has already signed major deals with large investors across Europe, enabling the realisation of such ambitious projects. To name one, more than 100 housing units are to be opened in less than 2 years, in sync with city-occupants’ increase.

One of the first things to strike me during my interview at Colonies was its refreshingly open and convivial working-space and culture. After my first few weeks, I realised what factors made it so much more enjoyable than my previous experiences. Start-ups and branded companies like Colonies transform architectural practice through innovative working and workspace models, adapted to our time. More than the actual physical space, this model makes it work wherever its temporary or permanent location may be.

Diversity of spatial options achieved at Colonies enables balance between private and social. Workspace flexibility gives it dynamism and life: employees can choose to be static or move around, and rather than fixed computers, all use laptops. In addition to personal desks within allocated teams (1), employees can work in groups or alone in private booths (2), have confidential meetings in soundproof rooms (3), be in an isolation cubicle (4), simply stand at a bar desk rather than sit (5), or use large social lunch tables and booths in the common space (6).

Moreover, Colonies merges all of its departments into one large working space enabling cross-professional learning whilst separating each team into its own tables. This results in tailored, streamlined processes and responses to market demands. It increases company growth, awareness, cohesion and efficiency whilst founders still oversee all projects. This cross-professional system is clearly more suited to solving contemporary challenges.

For example, the technology team’s advanced tools are used throughout the whole company, which highly benefits the architecture team. They also manage how people discover Colonies, optimising and automating marketing efforts, administrative tasks etc. The ‘profile’ they create is in line with the architecture team’s housing-design approach, whilst tools like Slack, GitHub, Trello, and Notion facilitate communication and productivity within the whole company.

Synergy is everywhere. The Architecture team works closely with Operations and Experience Management to fulfill the general needs of coliving spaces as well as site-specific requirements of each project. Contact between teams is direct, immediate, and individuals work as freelancers within teams rather than in silos. This cross-pollination of sorts is fundamental to the model, sparking innovation and promoting a wider, more integrative vision of projects and of Colonies’ mission.

Although still a very new brand, Colonies’ already has a strong sense of community and identity. Just as Colonies co-living housing are not just places to live, their headquarters are not just a place to work. Both settings aim to enforce connection, healthy living and creative inspiration. The workspace incorporates its logos, colour-palettes, furniture and design from their housing projects throughout the office, which alongside other small touches results in a creative, personable, coherent and distinctive space. A terrace and indoor plants give an inside-outside feel connecting to the landscape. Staff are therefore invited to live the Colonies experience at work, which in turn facilitates their mission to design and deliver it to others.

Written by Adelaïde Spitalier, Architecture and Design Intern in Product team at Colonies.