“We were fortunate enough to be able to develop each part of the space slowly over time” – Agora Project, Berlin
The Agora project space in Berlin is tucked away in a leafy courtyard at the heart of the city’s Neukölln neighborhood. A district that has seen significant changes in recent years, due to an influx of young a creatives looking for a dynamic location and cheap rent. While Neukölln has undergone many positive changes, there has also been a negative side. Long-term residents have seen a dramatic spike in rents and the landscape they once knew so well is now seemingly unfamiliar.
Agora’s community manager, Denis Altschul, is very much aware of the area’s ever-changing nature and believes that it is important for their space to be a platform that is open to the community, rather than just a space designed for a specific group of people. Agora offers various programs and events, which aim to nurture diversity, self-organization and organic social relationships.
Hi Denis! The Agora community has a lot of room to work with in your beautiful 5-story building. How did you initially develop the space?
Agora opened in 2011, and from the beginning had the opportunity to grow organically. We were fortunate enough to be able to develop each part of the space slowly over time. This process gave us the chance to understand the community and to really think about what we were aiming for. Because Berlin is still relatively inexpensive, we didn’t need to start off doing research or create a business plan ahead of time, but rather answer to the direct needs of the people around us.
How does each area meet the needs of your diverse community?
We see that artists need to work in certain way, as opposed to people who want to individually work on computers. Each space in Agora has a different personality that members can explore and find out what’s best for them. At the entry of the space there is a restaurant, where we experiment with food. We invite different chefs who stay for around 3 months, giving them the chance to develop their practice in an active and responsive environment.
As for the other areas, we have a coworking space on the first floor, the third floor is a silent space, and then above is the space where we host the artists in residence.
So your coworking space is less focused on tech and startups?
Our members can be in any profession. There is no requirement, which is what I think tends to breed diversity within the space. With this attitude, it remains also open to freelancers who are outside design or tech, because a chef or an artist can also be considered a digital nomad.
The coworking scene in Berlin is often cited as being one of the best in Europe. As a space operator, how has the scene developed in recent years?
I see two paths that one can take when coworking in Berlin. One of them is focused on acceleration and is much more business driven. The other is more bottom-up and created by the community. At Agora we like define our space as somewhere where our members can form a family. This is especially important for those digital nomads who are looking for a sense of community while always on the move, which also contributes to our dynamic as well.
You are really interested in harboring diversity in coworking spaces. What are the clear-cut benefits of having an all-inclusive platform.
There are different styles of coworking spaces but the diversity that you get when you have a space where you transmit your values also brings incredible value back. So if you like art, cooking or community, we have this to offer, and this naturally attracts like-minded people who have much to offer in return.
I also think that diversity is important for creative projects. If you have members from totally different backgrounds, such as a visual artist and a programmer, you can create really strong teams.
Would you say Agora is completely hands-off or does it also provide value for members?
The coworking space in general is becoming a company that provides services. For us we have events, and different members with expertise that provide valuable output and knowledge. This is all part of the natural flow of the space, and still allows us to focus on community building.
What kinds of projects do you have going on in Agora?
We have a good relationship with the Food Assembly in Berlin, and they deliver fresh food every Wednesday. We also have a startup here call Karibu Berlin, which is designed to help digital nomads in Berlin looking to establish themselves in the city and they also help them grow their business. They have really integrated into the community and they offer our members a 40 percent discount for their services as well.
Of course we also have our artist residence, which is also serves as an educational program. The idea is to help visiting artists collaborate and learn from one another. We will put around 10 to 15 artists together for one month, and during this time they will work on one piece together.