Digital Society Forum Digital Society Forum
Dossier 24/06/2014

"Third places", new collaborative work spaces

A concept introduced in 1989 by US Sociologist Ray Oldenburg to refer to places relating neither to home nor work (cafes, libraries, bars), "third places" enable meetings in a friendly and accessible environment, and create links. By extension, the term "third workplaces" refers to the new alternatives to workplaces.

These are provided to businesspeople who are becoming increasingly mobile, and fall somewhere between home and the traditional office.
The widespread democratization and high volume of new information and communication technologies have contributed to the appearance of these "third places", which were almost non-existent five years ago. The concept includes a host of initiatives such as co-working areas, fablabs, hackerspaces, techshops etc. All call into question the idea of working in one specific place, now that the workplace is becoming an increasingly virtual concept.
Let us say at once that "although some achieve financial autonomy through the regular payment of subscriptions by members and renting the space for events, a majority of them survive thanks to public finance", as noted by researcher Antoine Burret.

Emerging from isolation

Firstly, beginning in 2006, there was a proliferation of telecentre initiatives, particularly in rural areas, as part of public economic development and territorial attractiveness policies, as Camille Giordani-Caffet recalls in her study on the subject. Add a method of working anchored in discussion and networking to a physical place and you have a co-working space.
"Co-working was born in 2005 in San Francisco out of the desire of a new category of independent workers that arose out of the digital revolution (graphic and web designers) to share offices so that they could emerge from their isolation and make savings at the same time," it says. More precisely, co-working spaces are defined as third places with four main dimensions: economic (an ability to generate revenue); socio-professional (a place of reference where professionals in the same field can meet, discuss and work); cultural (a place where certain principles and values of openness and sharing are promoted); territorial and spatial (a place in a specific region, which encourages chance and non-linear meetings.

Numa, the benchmark in this respect

In some cases, other types of open spaces are grafted onto these co-working areas. In Paris, it was La Cantine - now Numa - located in an old fabric factory in the Sentier, which started the ball rolling. Pierre Chapignac, founder of the Zones Mutantes webzine devoted to regional socio-economic development, explains that "third places are being born out of pre-existing forms, specific conditions and/or premisses. La Cantine, the benchmark for third places, resulted from the combination of a collective business activity (the Silicon Sentier hub), a powerful digital culture and support from the authorities who invested in the idea and created the physical conditions for the crystallization of the third place."
Marie Vorgan Le Barzic, Chief Representative of Numa, adds: "Our experience with Camping (first start-up accelerator established in 2011) and La Cantine (co-working space set up in 2008), convinced us that it is these "frictions" that are sources of emulation and creativity. We therefore created a place that could house students just as easily as self-employed people, start-ups or even company employees."

Fablab, hackerspace, makerspace

Other major categories of "third places", Fablabs ("fabrication laboratories"), hackerspaces and makerspaces - the aim of which is to provide pooled tools - are public spaces offering training in digital practices and relay points for collaborative consumption.
These areas have in common ... the fact of being physically located: social links are developed, people work together and assimilate physical production techniques. In these open platforms for creating and prototyping objects, cobbling things together is king. Important places of technological innovation, they are proof that the digital and physical worlds can form a sustainable pairing.


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