Lessons In Creative Workspaces From A Startup In An Italian Villa

"We need the building not as the stage-set for creativity," writes Fabrica CEO Dan Hill, "but as part of the toolkit, a character rather than a backdrop."

Dan Hill is the CEO of company whose workspace is so beautiful that it "might just break the internet through its sheer brazen beauty": a 17th-century villa near Treviso, Italy.

The space is an "incredible gift" to Fabrica from its parent company, Benetton, Hill says, one that they feel fortunate to have, and, as well, a smidgen awestruck.

For a company that's hacking hardware and making physical prototypes, however, all those clean lines get a little claustrophobic. The building isn't the stage-set for creativity, he says, but a part of the toolkit.

We need to get messy. We need to jam cables through things. We need to splash paint, to spill solder, grow vegetables, make lunch. We need to velcro iPads along the corridor walls. We not only need to paste things on the wall, but we will need to drill. We need to knock it about a bit.

Learning to love to knock

The motivation for the mess, Hill says, is that the nature of Fabrica's work has changed: graphic design, writing, fimmaking, photography, and music used to be "relatively tidy" and able to be done individually. But thanks to code, communications is now happening between objects and spaces as well as media and people. The silos of communication--like the silos of all the other industries--have started to messily mingle.

So it happens in the space, too. Hill says he led by (minor) example: tacking sketched-upon paper to his unspoiled walls, setting a Little Printer upon his desk to make untidy notes.

"All of these moves are insignificant on their own," he writes, "but in aggregate and with constant verbal encouragement, gives a license to genuinely work with the building as a material, to bend it into the shape we need now."

The right tool for the job

As we've discussed before, the right spaces encourage the right kind of productivity. And for a communications firm that's trying to get a handle on the Internet of Things, making their workspace a "hackable habitat"--one that promotes serendipity, encourages collaboration, and cooperates with the gorgeous architecture already present. And it's not that every room needs to be staggeringly connected: just as music needs quiet, digital pursuits need analog places.

In this way, Hill argues, environment informs process:

(The space) not only enables, supports and provides the tools for one kind of work over another, but it also suggests, projects and cajoles possible trajectories for that work, for the team. If we start using the building as a platform we help figure out what ‘building as a platform’ might really mean.

The lesson: when you're building something awesome, it doesn't hurt to make your surroundings awesome.

Knockabout space

Drake Baer covers leadership for Fast Company. You can follow him on Twitter.

[Map Of Italy: Antonio Abrignani via Shutterstock | Fabrica Images: Instagram user City Of Sound]

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