Coworking for the AEC Community: Is It a Good Idea?

A group of professionals is testing this idea and needs your feedback.

Image courtesy of the author.
Image courtesy of the author.

I’ve been working out of a coworking space in Washington, DC’s Georgetown neighborhood for the past year. And it has been a very interesting and positive experience.

For starters, the building is gorgeous and the location is wonderful. We can work in the terrace overlooking the canal. The Wi-Fi is reliable. The people are really nice and there are some killer cookies and snacks on Fridays. We have met interesting people around the cafeteria table. We can ask the staff to do some clerical work for us and we only pay a monthly membership.

There are a few “BUTs”, though. I’m working for a small engineering consulting firm, and every time my boss (the engineer) wants to talk about his projects or pick somebody’s brain, there is no one from the construction industry around. Whenever he needs to print large format documents, we have to outsource it. If he wants to open the plans of the bridge project he is working on I have to put away my laptop to free desk space. We don’t have the capacity to scan drawings, or to hang them on the wall on a meeting room.

So we started playing with this idea: what if we created a coworking space where these “BUTs” are resolved? What if we invited the freelancers and small business of the AEC (Architecture, Engineering and Construction) industry to join us?

As we see it, it would mean retaining all the advantages of the small firms while having the resources of the big firms. It would mean that the small firm “A” could collaborate with the freelance “B” to bid for a project.

There is a long list of resources available in large firms that increase their capacity, and that are usually too expensive for small firms: large scale printing, readily accessible software, samples library, meeting rooms, project centers, training facilities for Continuing Education courses. Imagine your small firm can have access to all of this, then you realize how convenient this idea is.

So I was sent to find out if all of this was feasible. I attended coworking conferences and events, I met people, I read and researched. As it turns out, it is feasible.

According to my research, the last available U.S. census (2013) shows there are 2,133 small firms (less than 20 employees), with a total of 11,325 employees in the construction field in the DMV area (not including the residential remodeling field).

So here we are, working on this project and we need feedback from the community.

We have created a short survey to help us determine what amenities are most important for the community and to help us focus on what is really useful.

Please help us! Just fill the survey and click submit. It is anonymous unless you want to leave your name and email to receive updates.

For more info, check out www.builtenvironmentlab.com.

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