Volumes nurtures an ecosystem in northeast Paris
Published 22 January 2020 by Arnaud Idelon
Volumes is a collaborative space in Paris that includes coworking, a makerspace and a food lab. Now it’s preparing to open its second space just around the corner.
Just off of the bustling Place des Fêtes, the big door of a small building hides a tiled courtyard where graphic designers, makers, editors, chefs and other independent workers finish their cigarette break, improvise an outdoor meeting or make a few phone calls. The first impression of Volumes Coworking is constant activity, which is confirmed once inside: on the left, a conference room occupied by three people in the middle of a brainstorm; perfect symmetry on the right, where the kitchen (a.k.a Foodlab) is occupied by small clusters of individuals in spontaneous meetings. Further in, beyond the private work studios, is an open space where some 30 conscientious independent workers are silently immersed in their computer screens. You can almost hear the equipment in the makerspace part of the room: 3D printers, CNC and other machines in use by students of ENSA Paris-Malaquais during their intensive week of digital fabrication.
Volumes: experimentation, impact and organic growth
Founded by six associates with diverse skills and backgrounds, Volumes is a center of gravity for the neighborhood within the 19th arrondissement of Paris, with open studio Mondays and organic food baskets for sale, when the Foodlab users haven’t already opened their kitchen to foodies for beta-testing or private classes. According to Francesco Cingolani, architect and cofounder of Volumes, one coworker bought an apartment just around the corner so that he could live near his future workplace. This is a prime example “territorial anchoring”.
Founded in 2016 as an extension of a project to plan a public place in Norway directed by Francesco, Volumes was launched as a physical space to encourage the involvement of residents, “a space where citizens could express their wishes, needs and potential uses”. Since then, Volumes has focused on constant experimentation, as the space mutates according to how it is used by the residents. “We wanted people to come here and convey their needs, so that we could develop the project from there,” explains Francesco, for whom research on Volumes’s territorial impact is crucial. “These past four years, we have grown organically—we didn’t know there would be a food lab at the beginning.”
Very quickly, Volumes became equipped with a shared professional kitchen for emerging caterers, who were partial to locally sourcing their products, to refine their offerings, test the viability of their business model and receive feedback from Volumes coworkers, neighbors invited to public events or participants of evening cooking classes. In order to use the coworking space, individuals pay somewhere between 25€ per day and 390€ per month (for a permanent desk) and receive an extra discount if they live within 1 kilometer of Volumes. The makerspace is accessible for both hourly projects and monthly residencies.
In total, the space hosts about 50 designers, architects, urbanists, publishers, artisans, makers, chefs, graphic designers specialized in civic tech or dataviz, 10 resident makers (Damien Coquet, Milkywood, Unwasted, Ublik, Raphaël Emine—ceramicist, Stéphane Malka Architecture, Deltaboard) and five independent caterers (from the eco-friendly sweets of PLUCHE to the high-class cocktails of Nighthawks…) who bring the space to life, true to Francesco’s vision to anchor productive tools in the heart of the city.
Francesco emphasizes doing-it-together and mixing audiences: “Producing things has economic value, but it also builds relationships. Our vision of the productive city is production and ecology, but what drives us is creating a friendly environment through sharing the tools for production. We didn’t create a space just to create a space, we created a space to change the city.” And while they are increasingly sollicited to replicate this successfully proven model, Francesco insists on preserving the experimental and organic nature of the project as it grows: “Are we interested in raising 10 million euros and opening five spaces? That doesn’t quite correspond to our content and our values. We researched other options, and right now it’s the territorial ecosystem that prevails.”
Volumes is currently expanding by launching a second space a short walk away from the first, but especially by fostering synergies with other neighboring projects: “Growing also means transforming the governance of Volumes, operating more inclusively for our users and valorizing the ecosystem that we built over five years.”
Second space at Mouzaïa: brutalism, friendliness and crossovers
As Volumes’s successful response to a call for projects by RIVP (Régie Immobilière de la Ville de Paris) to operate a coworking space, Volumes will invest a new address on Rue de Mouzaïa from September 2020 for a long-term project. Two numbers, two buildings and many years of history. The building located at 66 Rue de Mouzaïa is a former sewing-machine manufacturing studio designed by Pierre Sardou and Maurice Chatelan, which was converted into offices, then into a center for the Salvation Army. The site’s industrial past also cohabits with contemporary architecture, as the adjacent building at number 58 is one of the last traces of brutalist architecture in central Paris, conceived by Claude Parent, one of the big names of the movement, which emphasizes the ruggedness of concrete and its pure lines.
As a former artists’ squat (Le Bloc), the site is covered in street art murals, which have attracted many fans of Paris’s underground culture in recent years. Both buildings are part of an urban renewal plan that prioritizes the site’s heritage and the diversity of its activities. By autumn 2020, it will include a CROUS student residence, emergency housing, artist studios, and a coworking space managed by Volumes. Consistent with its activities at Place des Fêtes, Volumes will open a shared work space geared more for corporate use (company seminars, private offices) in line with its themes (food, fab city, third-space, open innovation). The architecture will be designed by Wao studios (members of the Fab City Grand Paris network), while the Re-Store project (which Makery covered here) will apply its re-use concept to the interior design of the space.
The big challenge, according to Francesco, will be working in partnership and creating synergies with the other entities occupying the site. For example, the Foodlab will include a program for becoming independent through cooking for residents of the on-site emergency housing center managed by the Salvation Army. “We know how to stimulate dialogue between parties and create mutual energy between players,” says Francesco, who negotiated for Volumes to curate the building’s entrance hall. “It’s the space where we’ll be able to reach the student community, artists, residents.”
From multi-site to ecosystem, reinforcing territorial impact
From one site to another, Volumes’s growth is an opportunity to refocus its modes of development. “The Mouzaïa project is just an excuse to begin to build and formalize an ecosystem more broadly across the territory. The ecosystem exists, but right now it is very fragmented,” says Francesco, referring to Fab City Grand Paris, which unites designers, architects and urban farmers around a circular production model, and includes Volumes, Woma, Ars Longa, Vergers Urbains, Homemakers, Noise la Ville, CivicWise, La Paillasse, MU collective and OuiShare. From Place des Fêtes to Mouzaïa, the time is ripe to cultivate local synergy around the idea of a territory in transition (digital, societal, ecological), where northeast Paris is fertile in both players and experiments.
Thus, Volumes’s territorial anchoring involves reinforcing the local network, both informally with its neighbors Woma and more formally with the Fab City Grand Paris network, and supporting their efforts with physical spaces for exchange and experimentation. “Having a place to gather nearby is essential. Digital media doesn’t eliminate our need for proximity, as our past five years of experimenting have confirmed,” Francesco explains. He is wholly involved in two federating European projects at the intersection of design and urban fabric (Distributed Design Market Platform for makers and Reflow for urban resilience). Another European project, recently picked up by the Centrinno consortium, aims to develop tools to help maintain small artisanal businesses producing within the city center; with Volumes, it will launch a food lab incubator oriented toward a social and solidary economy (SSE) and short circuits (products cultivated in Paris on the sites of Vergers Urbains).
In terms of networking, Volumes is auspiciously aligned with another project, initiated by the organization Colibris and other partners. Scheduled to open in autumn 2020, Oasis 21 will occupy 1500m2 of La Halle aux cuirs, a former tannery nestled inside Parc de la Villette. Currently used as a storeroom for the park’s various cultural institutions, it will be converted into shared offices for like-minded organizations.
According to Cédric Mazière of Oasis 21, the meeting between Volumes and Oasis 21 aims to “create a community anchored in SSE with a tint of ecological and citizen activism”. Among organizations just getting to know each other, mutual and complementary relationships are the keystones of their common projects. “Right now, the communities are viscous,” says Cédric. “We need to think together on the scale of a territory, not as rivals. This is more interesting for everyone.” It’s also an opportunity for Volumes to step back from managing the spaces, which could be transferred to Oasis 21, and focus more on research and content creation.
Francesco and Cédric envision both spaces offering common training, events and conferences, which would enable them to pool their efforts in coordinating activities and engaging the community. “Creating a network of interconnected players within a productive ecosystem is our vision of Fab City Grand Paris,” Francesco explains. “We need to make these networks more dense and more visible.”
More information on Volumes