Re-embracing Commonality: The Future of Retail and Workspace

To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often – Winston Churchill


As debate continues around what the future may hold for workspace and for the traditional
retail focused high street in a post-pandemic world, Common Ground Workshop have re-
imagined a street fronting retail unit on Old Bethnal Green Road to test a model of mixed
tenancy that merges a café with an agile co-working space and a contemporary arts space,
alongside a commercial kitchen and bakery.

As both high street retail and conventional workspace financial and use-class models are
arguably facing an existential crisis, the mixed-tenancy space at ‘The Common E2’ presents
a new spatial narrative that seeks to redefine a hitherto siloed commercial space into one
that is inherently flexible, adaptive and that embraces possibilities for community

For CGW Director Jack Pannell the concept of mixed tenancy isn’t a novel idea:

‘’The insertion of workspace into a café, and then adding an art gallery space into the mix is
nothing new: markets, church halls and local community centres have for generations
offered spaces that are both adaptive to change and that situate the community and it needs
at the core of their function. This kind multipurpose place has traditionally existed within
communities, and importantly the pandemic has revealed the degree to which forced
separation and siloed commercial tenancy deeply exposes a distance between people, a
lack of community and social cohesion.

The common E2 is completely responsive to people’s needs and has commonality built into
its DNA: The more commonality there is in a space, the more it can respond to what the
community needs. What we have instead tried to accomplish at ‘The Common E2’ is
similarly to reimagine how the unit can be used, and by whom. By asking our staff and
partners who have a stake in the building to un-learn static models of space operation and to
embrace true agility we have as a collective been able to create a philosophy of adaptive
and fluid ownership, and an evolution of a new kind ‘stakeholder commonality’. The
Common E2 operates at the heart of a thriving local community of residents and
professionals, and sustainability can be created within this environment by inviting
community, and a social capital dynamic into projects from the outset.’’

The challenge facing developers, landlords, private finance and individual companies will be
immense in the months (and years) to come, but what is clear is simply returning to the ‘old
ways’ of working, shopping and operating are unlikely to bear fruit in the long term. The
Common E2 project proposes that we first seek to change hearts, minds and old habits to
move forward into a more sustainable and prosperous future. Why wait for a pandemic for us
to realise that the old model is no longer fit for purpose?

Tenancies at The Common E2 include:


Common Ground Workshop

Common Ground Workshop in an architecture and interiors practice with a unique vision for
the built environment that seeks collaboration between people: We believe that the
promotion of shared interest and a common purpose leads to the evolution of exceptional
projects. By putting clients, end users and communities at the heart of everything we do, we
seek to drive lasting value into our work and to transcend traditional barriers and constraints
to project success.

Our rich experience to date demonstrates that successful design follows on from early
consideration of strong and sustainable local community connectedness, combined with a
willingness to embrace change and the possibilities presented by a paradigm shift in
commercial use patterns.




In early 2021 ‘Commonage’, a not-for-profit arts project space showcasing the work of
emerging contemporary artists, will join ‘The Common E2’ and will offer a unique space for
testing new ideas that encourage commonality, experimentation and dialogue through
events and exhibition. As a not-for-profit, Commonage will be supported by both of it’s
neighbours within the unit and will generate income through the flexibility inherent in the
wider space: the unit will expand and contract on demand to offer larger events space,



The Common E2

Launched in 2015 as a hybrid space by design The Common E2 has always been the
perfect front of house for Common Ground Workshop. Owner of The Common E2 and
Director of Common Ground Workshop Mark Sciberras Described the space as:
“A public looking glass into the inner workings of design and architecture. The Common E2
invites anyone and everyone to examine and observe the mechanics of a profession that is
normally delivered behind closed doors. We’ve broken down the fourth wall; we sit down with
customers of the cafe and will discuss, in detail, our projects.”