The We Company, the startup formerly known as WeWork, is moving beyond the walls of its coworking empire to launch programs at the city scale. The company announced this week that it was hiring prominent designer Dror Benshetrit as well as Di-Ann Eisnor, the head of growth at Waze, to jointly head up We’s new future cities initiatives.
Eisner and Benshetrit–who has proposed concepts for man-made utopic island communities, masterplanned parks in Istanbul, and imagined futuristic neighborhoods with self-driving cars as the head of Studio Dror–will oversee a team of engineers, architects, data scientists, biologists, and economists with the admittedly fuzzy goal of understanding how to improve people’s lives in urban environments.
In an email announcement, Benshetrit wrote about his new gig: “I see this as a natural extension of the comprehensive approach and holistic visions [Studio Dror creates]. I am thrilled that the Studio Dror team joins The We Company’s journey to reimagine not just the future of work, but of space and how we use it, and in doing so, help our cities thrive and become more livable, more human, and more inclusive.”
How exactly his team will do this is unclear (both Benshetrit and We declined to be interviewed for this article). But the move clearly builds on the company’s rapid-fire hiring of design talent over the past few years: In 2018, We acquired the design school Designation and brought on starchitect Bjarke Ingels as the company’s chief architect. (Ingels is currently focused on building We’s headquarters in New York City.) The company’s chief creative officer, Adam Kimmel, is a fashion designer, and back in 2015 the company acquired another design firm, Case. We swallowing up Studio Dror is yet another example of tech companies and consulting firms bringing design talent in-house by acquiring independent design studios.
Given that Benshetrit’s work in urban design has been largely conceptual, it’s a curious hire for The We Company. Perhaps We is hoping to that Benshetrit’s futuristic visions complement the more analytical expertise of Eisnor–whose job will be to make sense of We’s copious data–though neither has traditional urban design experience.
We has been on an ambitious, if amorphous, path to disrupt the real estate industry, as it scales up its coworking spaces, coliving buildings, schools, and gyms globally. In some ways, urban design is a logical next step for a company with such outsize ambition to remake the way that people live and work. Other tech companies have gone in this direction as well: Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs is a tech company posing as an urban design studio that’s aiming to apply the rapid iteration and testing of software to city streets through a large (and controversial) project in Toronto. Similarly, Airbnb launched a design lab in 2016 with the goal of dipping its toes into larger scale urban planning. With its mysterious future cities initiatives, We is clearly hoping to expand its footprint in the city–and maybe one day build its own.