CMS also devotes generous space to flexible conference rooms in a multiplicity of configurations, a cafe and a proper restaurant and coffee areas and “lounges,” overall creating such an inspired and energizing reimagining of “the office” that the likes of high tech startups and PwC have visited to see what it’s all about.

A few years ago the City offices of a US firm we know well moved from a tiny floorplate building to a similarly generously sized one and took a less radical step, although that didn’t insulate the office managing partner from alarming lectures about the consequences of doing the unthinkable.  What did they do?  They simply mixed up practice groups, so that (say) a litigator might be next door to a project finance lawyer to an M&A practitioner to a funds lawyer.  So what?

Well, actually so this:  In relatively short order the office had incubated and launched a highly successful and brand-new practice cutting across traditional disciplines, but providing clear and convincing benefits to clients: “Boardroom risk.”   Could it have happened without the random mixing up of people?  Possible.  Not likely.

This convenient and happy story points to what’s actually the most critical aspect of rethinking office space, and it has nothing to do with cost savings.

Serendipitously, the Harvard Business Review just published “The Innovative Coworking Spaces of 15th-Century Italy,” talking about the famous Florentine Renaissance workshops, or “bottega”’s.  Here’s how they worked:

The Renaissance put knowledge at the heart of value creation, which took place in the workshops of these artisans, craftsmen, and artists. There they met and worked with painters, sculptors, and other artists; architects, mathematicians, engineers, anatomists, and other scientists; and rich merchants who were patrons. All of them gave form and life to Renaissance communities, generating aesthetic and expressive as well as social and economic values. The result was entrepreneurship that conceived revolutionary ways of working, of designing and delivering products and services, and even of seeing the world.

Florentine workshops were communities of creativity and innovation where dreams, passions, and projects could intertwine.

If this doesn’t sound terribly familiar, read it again:

  • “knowledge at the heart of value creation”
  • “aesthetic and expressive as well as social and economic values”
  • “revolutionary ways of working [and] delivering services.”

The Renaissance bottega was modeled on a loose coupling of master and apprentice; tradecraft handed down intact and an invitation to look beyond the traditional; networking; and mentoring.

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