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Makeshift Society's Eastward Expansion

By Dwell @dwell
San Francisco–based co-working outfit Makeshift Society has its sights set on a Brooklyn outpost. By donating to a Kickstarter campaign, you can help make the new space, to be at 55 Hope street in Williamsburg, get up and running. "Makeshift is a place for someone to take their creative passion and turn it into reality," says Rena Tom, the organization's founder. "We gather the space, tools, services and a community of people who inspire and encourage you to make shift happen." We sent a few questions to Rena about the forthcoming location's design spearheaded by Dash Marshall. Photo

Makeshift Society is opening a Brooklyn outpost in early 2014, which will feature co-working spaces for creatives.

What brought about the expansion to Brooklyn?

We’ve received great press and encouragement in the year we've been open and that led to people clamoring for us to bring Makeshift to their city. We can’t be everywhere, of course, but that got us thinking about expansion in general. New York City is part of a larger plan to eventually devise a toolkit or blueprint for others to start Makeshift branches in their own town.

Can you tell us about the classes and educational programs that Makeshift offers?

The classes, lectures, and events are half business-related and half creativity-related. The former is directly good for your business and the latter is a great way to blow off steam and open the door for something unexpected to happen. The programming is largely set by members and what they’re interested in learning. We also take submissions by teachers and really check the news to see what topics are of interest to freelancers, since they make up the majority of our membership right now. More and more people are going freelance every year but many are unprepared for their new reality: self-promotion, pricing and invoicing, hiring help, making connections, self-motivation and accountability, and the like, so we cover those topics and more.



Where is the building located and what's the target opening date?

We’re at 55 Hope st. in Williamsburg. We had three requirements when looking for a space: must be near train lines, must be near good food and drink, and it must be a nice building. Luckily we were able to find all three in a space on the ground floor of a structure built in 1907 that used to be one of multiple Eberhard Faber Pencil Factory buildings. We’ve been telling everyone that we will open our doors before the snow melts, but so far it has been an unusually warm autumn, so that may end up being sooner than we like! Right now we are targeting early spring 2014.

What are your favorite features of the forthcoming space?

Having enough space! Seriously, probably the fact that there are windows on three sides on the ground floor. Plentiful natural light is a treat, as is being open and inviting for people to peer in and observe the beehive of activity. We feel very strongly that Makeshift should be a kind of ‘engine’ for creating new connections and experiences, and there’s nothing more creative in New York than the street life itself, so why hide from that?

The bones of the space are great, so in terms of the renovation we are only adding things where we absolutely need to for the sake of functionality. What we do add has to always do double duty. For example, one conference room opens up to become a kind of stage for lectures, while the other will serve as a photo studio when needed, and the reception area is really just a very simple high table that is also a great place for people who prefer a standing desk. The space is designed for flexibility without being showy about it, so rather than being hyper specific and ergonomic for specific tasks, we’ve designed things to more ambiguous and open ended.

Like a good pair of raw denim jeans, the design for the space is a starting point and it will be the day to day use by our members that gives Makeshift Brooklyn its true character.


A floor plan shows an example of the space's configuration.

How did you select Dash Marshall to design the space?

One of Dash’s projects was an apartment in New York City that turned a 700 square foot studio into a flexible space that can be configured for very different modes of use—this kind of thinking was important to us because even though our NYC location is so much larger than San Francisco's we want it to be used in overlapping ways at different times. The architecture has to subtly encourage that kind of activity. It also helped that my business partner Bryan is a co-founder of Dash Marshall!

What types of tools and machinery will be available?

We’re actually asking our future members and Kickstarter backers to help us define exactly what they need, so this is still an open question, but the kinds of things that we’ve assembled as a starting proposal include cameras (both digital SLR and vintage film cameras), a lighting kit, tripod, and seamless backdrops; stuff that’s too large to have at home but uniquely useful, like a 36-48” wide plotter; a video editing station; an audio recorder and microphones; and if we can afford it a Risograph machine, which is this really cool cross between a letterpress and a copy machine. You can see the full list here and give us feedback here.

For those that aren't familiar with the San Francisco space, can you tell us about the spectrum of people using it now?

The strength of Makeshift is in our ability to bring all of those people together, and to welcome newcomers so the organization slowly but continually evolves. There’s a broad range of people at the San Francisco space. We attract a lot of photographers, writers, designers, business coaches, consultants, and architects. Some are new to freelancing (or to San Francisco itself) and others are seasoned pros who have never had access to this kind of organization and before.


Here's a snapshot of the 1,000-square-foot San Francisco location.

Have you learned anything from the San Francisco space that will inform the Brooklyn location's design?

That people like to work in smaller spaces than architects expect them to! San Francisco was a real experiment for us because it does not look like a workplace in a lot of ways, it’s more casual, almost domestic. The basic shell of our location in NYC is much more industrial, so we’re thinking about the design differently and letting the two spaces evolve with their own character. Still, beneath the 17-foot-tall ceilings in NYC we’re making sure that our members can find a diversity of areas in which to work, without chopping up the space and preventing us from having larger events. That was the right choice for us in SF and we expect it to do the trick in NYC as well. The furniture is another learning point that we’re going to transfer to Brooklyn: don’t come to Makeshift if you like all of your furniture to match!

Any parting thoughts?

As you can tell by the name, as much as the physical place is important, the goals of Makeshift Society are somewhat more lofty: we’re interested in the way that American society is changing and want to productively help people make their own way, if that’s what they want to do. Many of our members are either on the cusp of jumping from one profession to another, or growing their business from a single person shop to something larger and we’re building Makeshift Society to support those people. This notion of shifting from one thing to the other is essential; it’s in these moments where the boundaries or definitions that made sense in the past no longer make as much sense and there’s room for something new.

Coming full circle, this is also where the physicality of Makeshift becomes critical. In our physical locations, we’re able to meet the straightforward demand for a place to work or the need to borrow a microphone, but more importantly we’re fostering a diverse community around those desires. Rather than cater to one specific group of people—say photographers—we attract a variety of interests, experience levels and backgrounds and then create opportunities for those people to conspire together. This kind of mixing and bricolage works better in person than it does through online venues. Makeshift Society is a physical place where you encounter the people and ideas that don’t fit neatly into boxes, including search boxes.

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