By offering flexible, attractive, and affordable office spaces, WeWork has cornered the co-working market faster than anyone would have expected. Founded in 2010 with a single location in New York, the privately held company now boasts 200 locations totaling more than 10 million square feet of leased space in 64 cities and 20 countries. And counting.

Yet WeWork is not all about work: It wants to streamline every facet of life with typology-bending developments such as WeLive (housing), Rise by We (fitness and wellness), and WeGrow (an elementary school with a focus on entrepreneurship). But what should really raise architects’ eyebrows is WeWork’s growing stake in large-scale workplace solutions—from office layouts and interior design to branding and signage—for desirable clients such as Spotify, Microsoft, Pinterest, Sprint, and Salesforce. And let’s not forget the company’s allure to design talent: Nearly 400 architects and interior designers, engineers, researchers, product designers, graphic designers, user experience designers, and real estate specialists are already on its payroll.

Integral to WeWork’s success is its 2015 acquisition of Case, the building information and technology consultancy, which had counted WeWork among its clients. The brain trust included Case partners David Fano and Federico Negro, now WeWork’s chief growth officer and senior vice president, head of design, respectively, and Daniel Davis, now WeWork’s director of research (and an occasional contributor to ARCHITECT).

With a diverse portfolio and workforce, WeWork is not only commandeering the real estate market but also hacking the business model of established AEC firms. By serving as both landlord and property manager, WeWork has unfettered access to 175,000 members willing to provide post-occupancy feedback. “We’re primarily focused on trying to understand the relationship between people and spaces, and how the design of our spaces works for the people who inhabit them,” Davis says. “Instead of using intuition and rules of thumb, WeWork uses data to quantify what makes a good office.”

WeWork's San Francisco site in the SOMA neighborhood.
Courtesy WeWork WeWork's San Francisco site in the SOMA neighborhood.
One meeting room covered in a wallpaper with Rorschach-blob patterns, which some may consider as high design, was perceived as “distracting” and “weird” by some members.
Courtesy WeWork One WeWork meeting room, which some may consider as high design, was perceived as “distracting” and “weird” by some WeWork members.

Bolstering this effort is an interdisciplinary staff that can convert newly acquired properties into revenue machines at breakneck speed. Davis outlines the process: “As soon as we lease a space, we laser scan it so we can maximize the layout. We use Revit and have established a BIM workflow—a data pipeline that flows from the real estate department to the design team—that allows us to extract information and ensure consistent management of all our properties.” Once members start to settle in, his team begins reviewing usage patterns to see “what’s working and what’s not."

WeWork's storefront assembly design
Courtesy WeWork WeWork's storefront assembly design

Conventional firms need to think more across disciplines, Davis maintains. “Architecture school isn’t particularly good at preparing us to work collaboratively—it’s geared toward promoting the idea of the individual genius,” he says. “You have to let go of that to get to the next level of design."

What's Next: Reprogramming Practice
Intro     The Polymath     The Original     The Incubator     The Capitalists
The Algorithm     The 800-Pound Gorilla     The Lab Rats     The Interloper
The Young and the Restless     The Prophet     The Career Counselors

Note: This article has been updated since first publication to clarify Federico Negro's title.