How Second Home is engineering the new creative hothouse
In 2010, Rohan Silva was a smart young thing pulled from the UK’s Treasury department into the policy unit at No.10 to advise the then prime minister David Cameron. He had already launched the Tech City initiative that established East London’s ‘Silicon Roundabout’ as Europe’s key startup engine. Sam Aldenton, meanwhile, had impeccable new model entrepreneur credentials, opening what he says was London’s first dedicated co-working space in Dalston in 2005 – ‘we took an empty floor in a factory and put lots of desks in it’ – followed by alternative music venue Café Oto and Dalston Roof Park. He also set up street food arena Feast, which is where he first met Silva. The pair bonded immediately. ‘I had hung out at all these places and really liked them,’ says Silva. ‘Then I realised there was this one person connected to all of them and that was really exciting.’
Silva and Aldenton quickly looked for opportunities and hatched a plan. Working life had splintered and atomised. More and more people were working for smaller and more companies, often their own, but the professional infrastructure hadn’t kept pace with those changes. Commercial space was expensive, inflexible and spirit-crushingly dull. The pair also realised that this new workforce of atomised entrepreneurs still wanted to feel physically connected. They understood a fundamental truth: it’s hard to stay energised and motivated when your only company is the cat and a half-empty fridge in your kitchen.
‘Today’s technology means you can work with anyone anywhere, but this means that clustering in physical proximity is more important than ever,’ says Silva. ‘Everyone could be working in the middle of the countryside in their pyjamas, yet they’re not.’
The pair, eloquent and conspicuously connected, took their idea for a new model workplace and pitched it to 150 potential investors, with plentiful success. In 2014, they opened Second Home in a 1960s former carpet factory in the wrong part of Spitalfields in East London. For Silva, though, this was exactly the right place to be; a crushed avocado’s throw from the financial powerhouses of the city and the new tech and creative hub in Shoreditch.
‘Innovation happens at the intersection of fields, where people and organisations come together,’ argues Silva. ‘It’s where, historically, different communities have come together, and now it is where the fashion industry meets tech, and art meets finance and advertising. There aren’t that many places in the world with that kind of cross-pollination.’
The pair called in Spanish architects Selgas Cano to create a space that would foster both creativity and collaboration. The result is two floors (now three) of curvy transparent studios of seemingly infinite shape and variety. Plants are everywhere, fed by an internal watering system. It is a space that offers dramatic light and openness but also privacy. It is also determinedly raw and a little rough round the edges.
Aldenton says, ‘Selgas Cano embrace imperfections. It’s a juxtaposition to a technological age where everything is a sealed unit. They are celebrating the touch of the human.’ That optimistic, almost improvised architecture, and the idea it enshrined, clearly appealed. Second Home was fully occupied as soon as it opened.
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