There’s a sense that acquiring data literacy makes architecture relevant in a tech-dominated era.
There are T-shirts floating around WeWork’s New York City headquarters that say “Buildings equal data.” The nano manifesto hints at a conviction that architecture should be shaped by a methodical study of how people utilize spaces instead of unique aesthetic signatures. More than that, correlating digital information with physical structures is good business—it has quickly become a core strategy for the eight-year-old, $47 billion company racing to expand its footprint globally.
It’s hard to overstate how essential data is to WeWork’s operations. Specifically, architectural data.
Today data influences WeWork’s real estate deals, construction sequence, design choices, even the way desks are arranged in the offices it manages. Its data-collection methods, employing app-based surveys and room sensors among other tools, are designed to measure the perceived “vibe” of a particular space. In doing so, WeWork is nurturing a cadre of analytics-minded architects who are as interested in databases as they are in drawings.
Data has very much shaped WeWork’s bold growth plan. (Part of this plan included a recent branding change to The We Company.) The start-up, which has doubled its membership every year for the past five years, now has about 400,000 members in nearly 30 countries, and it is opening two million square feet of office space every month. To support this global expansion, WeWork employs about 900 architects, interior designers, engineers, and builders who screen and rely on analytics at every juncture of their job. A significant fraction of WeWork’s creative workforce is focused on Powered by We, an in-house development company that builds and operates corporate offices for large enterprise clients such as GE, Microsoft, and HSBC.
WeWork’s data crunching begins long before a new office opens, or even before a CAD drawing is prepared. By looking at a database containing millions of geographic information points around the world, its real estate analysts can pinpoint which properties are worth considering. From experience, they know that proximity to conveniences such as gyms, coffee shops, and transportation hubs is paramount to WeWork members.
But WeWork’s prowess with data really shines during the design phase.