Mȃché

The way we think about commercial urban environments is changing just as rapidly as the functions of the spaces that inhabit them. Change is an inevitability of urban habitats; and in Adelaide, we are beginning to see a paradigm shift towards a new ethos of managing commercial and social spaces within the admittedly small, yet increasingly vibrant Adelaide city district.

Organisations like Renew Adelaide and City Makers have done exemplary work in carving out new spaces for younger entrepreneurs with a venture and the verve to see them to fruition. These tenancies are managed under an unorthodox agreement with the property owners; rather than allow vacant urban spaces to go unused and unloved, participating owners provide the properties to the emergent businesses under a novel contract that either demands no rent from the tenants in question on a temporary ‘pop-up’ basis, or negotiate appropriate rental amounts according to their new ventures’ revenue.

This novel approach to tenancy in commercial urban environments has resulted in an explosion of interesting new cafes, bars, galleries, craft stores and many other small ventures in the pockets of Adelaide’s disused commercial spaces. The result is an exciting resurrection and repurposing of abandoned spaces that are now filled with colour, laughter and society. (And revenue!) To borrow the now infamous phrase from the vernacular of Mr. Turnbull, there’s never been a more exciting time to be an Adelaidean.

Hoping to diversify this fledgling attitude towards commercial and creative ventures are the chaps behind Mâché, a creative space with a difference establishing itself in the EcoCaddy digs just off Whitmore Square in the city’s west end. Mâché is the brainchild of three passionate Adelaidean creative professionals; Daniels Langeberg, founder and owner of local green pedalo-taxi service, EcoCaddy; Jac, a local architect; and Erick, the resident IT whiz kid.

Their mission as stated on their website is to provide a collaborative space for creative professionals like designers, musicians and artists to employ the talents of the cumulative group and create an artistic community that will form a “whole greater than the sum of its parts”. It’s an ambitious project that demonstrates a significant modicum of vision and passion on the part of its three founders. From our interview, Daniels demonstrated his fervent zeal for actively reforming the dynamics between the individuals or groups behind creative ventures and the property owners of commercial spaces those ventures could potentially inhabit. I personally look forward with some anticipation to see how the guys at Mâché contribute to the building momentum of the local efforts to repatriate urban environments to inject some life and society into the Adelaidean CBD, and also reexamine collaborative partnerships between multi-disciplinary creative individuals and groups.

Great Scott! sat down with Daniels to get the low-down on the ambitious venture; of which we’ll provide those parts where myself and Daniels weren’t just chatting happily, and I was actually comporting myself like a professional.
Mâché will be opening tonight, Friday the 5th of August with the SALA group exhibition, Second Nature.

If you’re a creative individual or outfit in the market for a space to make your own, get in contact with the lads at: www.mache.space

GS: What was the initial inspiration for a collaborative workshop like Mâché?

DL: It was an opportunity, and that was I suppose the seed which sparked what is now Mâché. It came about when I approached two of my riders, my employees at EcoCaddy, to explore the potential to inhabit this space and how we could do it cost effectively. We wanted to stay in this space, but for EcoCaddy, it was unnecessary; we didn’t need all of this space. We had great landlords, and they said, “Do whatever you want, and this is what we need in return in rent. There’s a bit of flexibility there, and let’s see what you can do.”

So I got these two guys down, Erick and Jac. Erick is very savvy in IT; he’s a connector, he’s a people person; so he’s doing our HR and our IT. Jac is an architect; he’s a damn fine rider; both of them. So we sat down and workshopped it. It was over a couple of days, a weekend, and we came out with something that looked like a pretty good new venture. A couple of weeks later, the name came about; we could talk for days about that name. [We mercifully didn’t.] It was an opportunity for a space. For me, I always wanted to build a co-working space, but it was something that I wanted to do two years down the track, when EcoCaddy had been around for a while. This was an opportunity to accelerate that idea.

GS: So you guys aren’t operating here in the same way in that, say, potential Renew Adelaide tenants do in the context of a non-rent, leasing agreement in that they have no rights to the ongoing tenancy over that period. You guys are actually paying for this [space].

DL: I suppose we’ve borrowed some of the idea, well, it’s really a proof of concept that it can happen; that it’s worthwhile. What Renew Adelaide have demonstrated to the Adelaide market is that things don’t have to be permanent. Really, what we should be thinking is what we do with the space that we have, and if that means we can do something temporarily to activate the space, and that’s really what Mâché is; it’s us going how long do we need for this to be worthwhile and if we’re given an amount of time, say 12 months, can we see a return on that. What we’re aiming to do, and it looks good from a numbers perspective, is to get this concept off the ground, to build a client base and prove the model so we can move Mâché to another space and thereby activating that space. We inhabit underutilised spaces and rearticulate them to a different use, which, in this particular instance is co-working, but opportunities may change depending on what space we inhabit.

GS: Yeah, I think there’s a lot of disused and underutilised spaces in Adelaide that have a lot of potential for young creatives, entrepreneurs and start-ups with good ideas but need the real estate or the physical space to enact those ideas.

DL: Space is everything. I think landlords, and I’m going to get passionate for a sec, space is the most critical thing for any start-up business. It’s the hardest thing to acquire, it is the largest overhead and because of that, it is the biggest barrier for people to realise their ideas. If we can provide more spaces to remove that barrier, then perhaps we’ll see greater potentials being realised. That’s sort of what Mâché is; it’s a co-working space, but it’s an incubator of these ideas to be able to manifest. But obviously, it needs to be feasible, so the co-working model seems right for what we want to do with it.

GS: It’s something that perhaps multi-disciplinary agencies have often come across; the realisation that if they merely outsource that creative contracting, there is a compromise both on the quality of the work produced, and the profit and returns; both fiscal and ideological, that can be gleaned by that particular agency. We might see a lot more creative multi-disciplinary ventures that possess facilities for marketing, design and further varied facilities to offer clients.

DL: Yeah, I suppose one of the biggest loss opportunities is that intangible relationship building that happens when people are within proximity to one another, within in our space. It is very much like a house, we’ve really tried to play on that aspect, to be a community based co-working space. I think there is a difference there; if you have a look at the market, there is a big band of corporate co-working spaces; they’re very efficient, very sleek, very refined. With that comes a very high membership fee. You also get these very amazing facilities, and usually a banging location, but that’s not what everyone needs, and at the basic, bare bones, is the space itself. The space needs to be welcoming, comfortable and obviously you need the infrastructure that can then facilitate the things that are going to be happening in there. So, for us, it’s high speed internet, maybe some onsite storage capability, amazing uplink capabilities; as we’ll be having videographers, photographers and audio technicians which usually need ‘cloud’ access these days. It’s again saying what people are we going to have in here, what’s our vision, what clients are we trying to attract and what do they need and meshing that all together.

GS: I think it’s an interesting point you make there. On the ideological concept that you guys are striving towards, with professional multi-disciplinary ventures such as this, there will be perhaps a fine distinction between management and the creative producers. Would you, as Mâché, see yourselves involving the tenants of this venture with the Mâché ethos? Say, if you had a videographer, would that creative do some promotional or productive work for Mâché? And would that then perhaps influence their position and financial obligation towards the corporation?

DL: Well, yes, we are exploring these options. We have four spaces that we are creating for artists. They could be visual, they could be performing; just depends on what their needs are. Our gut instinct says this could be perfect for visual artists. And we also realise the capacity of these professions; sometimes they have the ability to pay one month, sometimes they don’t; but what we’re really looking for is that intangible quality that these people can bring to the team, to the community. It’s really that aspect of doing cool shit under the same roof that inspires others to do more cool shit.

You can’t really put a price on that, but obviously we still need to run it like a business. So the question remains as to how can we subsidise these qualities that these people will be bringing, and likewise with new digital creatives such as digital artists and animators? What will Mâché evolve into? Will it become its own creative agency? Will other companies come to us to see how they can inspire their own staff? There’s all these potential avenues, but essentially what we want to do is create a framework, and to respond to things as they come. And I think that’s what when we sat down and had this conversation and said, “What is this thing going to be?” and I think it’s interesting when you mentioned the drawings [conceptual designs from the above video] when we were talking before; it’s actually a conscious decision by us in that particular style of design was intentionally left unfinished so potential tenants could fill in the spaces with their own colour, with their own fenestration, their own ideas. We didn’t want to refine; we actually rendered these designs down to the smallest detail, and then realised that this doesn’t really work; it doesn’t really mesh with our manifesto or what we’re trying to do here; which is to provide people with enough opportunity to be filled and owned by the people who are going to be here. I’m an urban designer, and we believe that what we do, what we design, is never really finished, that it’s a constantly evolving thing, and I think there’s something beautiful in that; that sense of ownership by the community.

GS: I think there’s very much a stigma to do with urban spaces; that you are constantly reshaping both the physical and conceptual spaces that we occupy. I find that’s really a very interesting aspect of your manifesto; that it’s not a top-down management structure where operations are dictated from a hierarchy and that you have an allowance and a fervour for allowing the tenant individuals to shape the progress of Mâché as they see fit, obviously within reason. I think that’s a fascinating aspect to the Mâché conceptual basis in that, as you said, this is a very temporary space; indeed, slated for demolition. Do you think that the Mâché ethos is easily transferrable; that it’s not just about this physical space here, that you can then move on to conceptually and physically occupy different spaces? Is that a crucial aspect for yourself and the other founding members behind the organisation?

DL: It is, yeah. We’re always thinking that we’ve got one foot out the door. And I think that what we’re functionally doing is designing corporate and conceptual systems that are then easily transferable. We can run it like a property development venture, but fundamentally what we create is a model that permits us a certain freedom that can be explored. And in that manifesto, though brief, the critical element is to seek out under-utilised spaces. If Mâché is successful, and I have every hope that it will be, and it ends up being a profitable venture, we’ll reassess the fundamental basis of what Mâché is. Let’s try and enforce the same constraints that we have in the original; it may well be a better space or for a longer period of time, but let’s starve ourselves of some of these freedoms.

I think where creativity truly spawns from is from these hardships; if you’re given too many allowances, particularly financial, you end up with these rather refined, polished and ultimately rather generic spaces. Quite like the pub renovations on the back of pokies revenue; you could be in any pub in Adelaide. We’re looking at the systems now and cataloguing everything that we’ve produced, so that we can to an extent – we don’t want to just copy it – replicate that sentiment in a new environment.

In reference to this space, that was a significant part of the process; myself and the other two founding members took a look at this space and said, “Man, what a dump!” but also saw the great potential in the division of this property. For example, supposing that one of the rooms would be suitable to a more private function to say, an executive team and so became our Executive Suite. Or assessing the other, smaller areas and judging them too small or pokey for multiple occupants and perhaps that’s where we can lodge artists in an individual studio space. And the recording studio, which is a really unique asset to this property, became an underpinning to the applications of this space towards professional creatives and media production.

GS: Do you see Mâché working collaboratively with local like-minded organisations such as Renew and City Makers, etc. that aid in formal legislative and infrastructure considerations that confront these kinds of commercial artistic ventures?

DL: Absolutely. I love what Renew Adelaide is doing; it’s an organisation with great people that has almost singlehandedly transformed how Adelaide’s urban spaces are used. To some extent, we’re borrowing their work as a proof of concept that this sort of business model functions practically, and are using it as a basis to build something that graduates into something greater. We’re not doing this in isolation; we’ve reached out to other co-working spaces; St. Paul’s and WATSO WorkSpace in Flinders St., Little City out in Prospect, and Sass Place in Unley.

There seems to be a co-working association that appears to be crystallising. And unlike other co-working examples, particularly along the Eastern seaboard, co-working space owners here seem to be very responsive to the idea of collaboration. What we’ve posed is that we are quite specialised in the sort of people that we’re seeking to get under our roof. If you were trying to put it into simple terms, we’d be somewhat of a cross between The Mill and Majoran; like tech meets art.

We find that there’s a lot of potential for creatives of both persuasions to provide the skill sets that perhaps the others lack. And what we’re proposing to other, similar collaborative spaces is that we will potentially possess a space with promising talented individuals and excellent facilities, and if there would be the possibility of an agreed membership between the disparate organisations that can employ some kind of model where creative professionals can utilise the facilities at Mâché or temporarily swap desks with one of our professionals and so be working in a completely different environment with people of different skill sets and that may inspire them in new manners. And those are sorts of experiments that we want to tease out and I think that’s a really beautiful way for Mâché to refresh a permanent and ongoing community within these transient spaces.

(Around this juncture, Daniels and I started to generally shoot the proverbial about mag-lev technologies, virtual realities and whether Elon Musk would liberate the world or enslave it. Fascinating for us, but probably less so for the average reader.)