In the future, we’re going to have a different way of understanding the city around us and the buildings that inhabit it. With space at a premium, we’ll build more efficiently rather than just building higher. Space, when not in use by its owners, will be rented out on demand, filling it up for more hours each week. Real estate, optimized.
That’s the vision of the founders of Splacer, a new Williamsburg-based startup that’s trying to do what Airbnb did for homes, but for offices and stores.
“Sharing spaces is the future,” said Adi Biran, the company’s cofounder, in an interview at the company’s Williamsburg headquarters. “Space is just a container. The history of architecture has been defining what a space is. It doesn’t necessarily need to be one purpose for a space. In general people are looking for something unique and different.”
Spaces on the site include a Bushwick restaurant ($230/hour), an Industry City warehouse (price upon request), a loft on the Bowery that has previously hosted photo shoots for Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue ($249/hour), or a geodesic dome upstate ($155/hour).
Splacer has more than 1,200 spaces listed on the site. Last week, it expanded to its fourth market, bringing in Miami alongside New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In September, cofounders Adi Biran and Lihi Gerstner raised $7.3 million, to bring the young company’s total funding up to $8.7 million.
But there’s more to this startup that just a lofty fundraising round.
Biran and Gerstner are Israeli, a significant bit of info in the story of Splacer.
Both were architects earlier in life, and both got their undergrad educations at Pratt and their master’s degrees in architecture at Columbia. Biran went on to have her own firm and consultancy and began teaching architecture to undergrads at a Jerusalem art school.
Tel Aviv is not unlike New York in that rent is very high. Midsized apartments sell for more than a million dollars, and Biran had an apartment on one of the most popular streets in central Tel Aviv, Rothschild Boulevard. That apartment was space 001 in Splacer’s catalogue.
“We didn’t have the funding to do this so we used our own spaces and our friends’ spaces,” Biran recalled. “We went to our friends’ galleries. It was literally us biking around Tel Aviv and asking people [to list their space]. … We did photo shooting. And I earned a lot of money from this. It was one of the things that helped us when we were bootstrapping.”
The idea of Splacer, and of sharing space generally, came out of one of Biran’s focuses of research, which is the kibbutz. A kibbutz is a small collective community, with a common dining hall and recreational facilities, and with small cottages for individuals and families to sleep, a bit, in organization, like a summer camp, albeit one where the campers work on a farm all day. They were the predominant form of social organization in the early years of Israel and continue to have an impact on the culture there today. From an architectural perspective, they utilize space in a way much different from what we find in Western life.
“When you enter a kibbutz you don’t have fences that surround things,” Biran explained. “Units are more about functions and not about the individual ownership of space. ‘This is where you eat, this is where you sleep, this is where you play, this is where you meet your friends.’ The outside is as important as the inside. Transportation doesn’t enter the kibbutz. So I saw this from the way that it was planned and I think this is something as architects and planners we can really learn from.”
Consider that Adam Neumann, the founder of WeWork, grew up on a kibbutz.
Far away from the kibbutzim, though, in the densely steel and concrete world of the capital of capitalism, Manhattan, and converted factories of Brooklyn, it’s the price of space that incentivizes sharing it. That’s a trend that Biran sees continuing at pace in the future, as millennials continue to flock to cities.
“I think the design is going to change in the sense that today we design things according to the zone,” she said. “My view of this is that design would allow for much more flexibility, so people would design things to be much more multipurpose.”