The Brave New World of A SPACE

Perhaps Zimmerman’s “the times they are a-changin’,” a cavalier lyric-turned-social-appraisal first uttered in ‘64, is one of pop culture’s most enduring nuggets of human critique. You can pin it on practically anything: fashions, music fads, politics. But also, and maybe most importantly, attitudes: how we look and see, how we skip and stride, how things work. And while we’re on the subject of work, that, too: work. It used to be that veneer was all that mattered: the stiff shirt-and-tie regalia, the punch clock, the framed wall ephemera, the engraved marble nameplate. You were someplace worth working at if you had any (or all) of these arrayed in front of you, your last sad sliver of self-worth be damned.

But, yes, the times have certainly a-changed, and while nine-to-six-ers toiling away in brightly lit shoeboxes still make up most of the urban workforce, a new intellectual working class, the kind stripped of the trappings of formal employment, has slowly risen over the years. Freelancers, startups, creatives—a riotous hodge-podge of lone wolves in nameless and faceless packs, working alone or in small groups, silent world-beaters with a plan—have at long last gotten over a major hump in world culture: that of being inexplicably viewed as second-tier citizens next to conventional office-dwellers.

Among the many barometers that herald this shift is the crazy-mad surge in the number of coworking spaces the world over: offices-in-disguise or glorified cubicles, you may say, or reimagined boxes for those who have long shunned, well, boxes. Tragically, like most good ideas, the coworking craze is now teetering on the edge of myopia and pedestrianism. Foot soldiers of the creative community can surely do better than stay in their beds with a laptop and a jar of oatmeal cookies, but not all coworking spaces, sadly, go beyond merely functioning as an alternative work station, of serving a physical need, of filling a spatial void. There are those places, and they’re not bad, sure, but also, there’s A_SPACE, which has gone way north of “standard” coworking and may actually require an entirely new vocabulary for what they have to offer.   

The pioneering coworking project nestled in the most superb of locations (Makati’s CBD, Bonifacio Global City, Pasong Tamo media corridor, and Cebu Crossroads) has found its calling in being an organic, malleable, breathing space whose confines are as fluid as the needs of the people who frequent it. “It’s a space where they can start conversations that are free of the mundanity of mediocre, where they can start dreaming. It’s a place where dreamers come together,” founder and CEO Matt Morrison shares while nursing a beer and writhing through the increasingly thickening crowd at this year’s acoustic-stage rendering of Fête de la Musique, which A_SPACE is hosting for the second year in a row. He bumps into countless people he’s on first-name basis with—some of them artists, others habitués of the space he runs—with equal parts warmth and polite distance, a personality archetype of sorts for the business, a wordless gesture that says, “Here’s a well-thought-out, smartly designed space with all the amenities you dreamed of; now let me skedaddle out of your way so you can go work n’ play.”

Three floors’ worth of marked-off spaces with an arms-open-wide ambiance—an art gallery, a kitchen, a lounge, HQs for bigger teams, and four sprawling meeting rooms—make up the physical skeleton of the place, but more than the floor space, Morrison and his team are prouder of the burgeoning culture A_SPACE has, since it formal opening in mid-2015, helped jumpstart. And what sort of culture would that be? The bearded, black-shirt-clad Morrison, easily a rock ‘n’ roll vision than a corporate one, whips out metal-plate prints of celebrity mug shots in response: Jim Morrison of The Doors, actor Al Pacino, Bill Gates. “Some of these guys are now part of the mainstream conventional community, but at the time, when they were coming up, they were innovative; they were challenging; they were getting in trouble,”  he says, setting aside the one of the late singer-poet, adding, “He was hugely influential; he didn’t make it to thirty; and he was constantly being arrested or put down by the conventional community for his innovative stance.”

Though A_SPACE doesn’t discriminate on its clientele, one may hazard a guess that “disruptive” personalities, what Kerouac lovingly called the “mad ones”—mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time”—may be their choice cup of tea. “A space like [this] exists because the startups and the innovative thinkers are the future, and if we can empower them, enable them to come together and access shared resources, it means that they can do a hell of a lot more with their talent than they otherwise would have a chance to do,” Morrison (not the dead Doors guy) says.

Curious that with its very moniker, A_SPACE conjures either modesty or primacy—yes, it’s a space, meaning one among a few others, but it’s also an A space, staking claim on the top rung of the ladder—and it’s most certainly both. Chances are, if you’re coworking in a place that hosts art shows and pop-up gigs; casual meet-ups and power meetings; pitches and brainstorms; capoeira and vinyl nights, you’re working somewhere worthwhile—shirt-and-tie regalia, punch clock, framed wall ephemera, engraved marble nameplate or otherwise.