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Coworking; A Journey Through Its History

Bre Gajewski
11 March 2019

We like to think that coworking is new, modern, forward-thinking, ground-breaking and innovative since, after all, we are a coworking space! And while OneCoWork maybe all of those things, the coworking is not a new concept. 

In fact, coworking has been around since the 15th century. What we're doing (and doing it well, we like to think) is adapting the concept of coworking for the demands and needs of modern society. We want to show you how coworking spaces have evolved into what we now know them to be. Let us take you on a journey through the history of coworking, beginning in an art workshop in 15th century Italy and finishing in the 21st century, modern-day coworking space.

Coworking in the 15th Century

One of the first signs of coworking occurred in art workshops in Florence in the 15th century. In these coworking places, experienced artists taught less experienced artists new skills and techniques. Much like today, the spaces were designed to inspire teamwork, ideas and creativity.

Artists were encouraged to collaborate and bounce ideas off one another to improve their pieces and create ideas for new ones. Artists with different skill sets would collaborate on one project, bringing different perspectives and strengths and it would ultimately enhance the final project. 

It is this deliberate encouragement of collaboration of people with different talents that bears a close resemblance to modern day coworking spaces. These Italian workshops bred some of the most talented artists to date such as Leonardo da Vinci and Lorenzo di Credi, both of whom learned under Andrea del Verrocchio in his collaborative workshop in Florence.

Coworking in the 17th Century

Let's travel forward in time to the 17th century. It was here that literature started using the term 'coworking'. In books dating back to the mid-1600s, the term coworking is used to express a collaborative effort. 

The book The Powring ovt of the Seven Vials from 1645 refers to God coworking with 'theeves'. In 1651, the book Appello Evangelium: For the True Doctrine of the Divine Predestination speaks about God coworking with 'the Creature' and again in 'A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace from 1657 refers to coworking to refer to a collaboration between grace collaborating with an action of a man. 

The examples above don't refer to a space in which people collaborate; however, the concept of two forces (be it humans or other) working together to achieve a goal has been happening for centuries.

Coworking in the 19th Century

Now we will move forward two centuries into a 19th-century public library. Public libraries were the common space for people to work alongside others in the19th century. They were the 19th-century coworking spaces, if you will. 

At this time, many libraries opened their doors to the public, rather than only being available for the academic elites, and it was this change that influenced cowork-like features. Many of the public 19th-century libraries had rooms for collaborative working, where people could sit in a group to talk, brainstorm and create, sound familiar to anything at OneCoWork? They also had large shared desks where people worked independently but in close proximity. The design is a major part of modern coworking spaces. 

Coworking in the 20th Century

We are heading to the 20th Century hackerspace called c-base in Berlin. Hackerspaces are altogether very similar to modern-day coworking spaces. They were places where people with common interests, often in computer science, machinery, technology, science and digital art, could meet up and collaboratively work on a project or work independently but around other like-minded people. 

C-base was the first hackerspace and it was set up by a group of 17 people in Berlin in 1995. In 2002, C-base made wifi networks free for those working in the space. Following this, they started creating events including an Open Mic Night in 2003 to bring people together and to encourage the display of talent. Sounds very much like a networking event we would see today.

Coworking in the 21st Century

Finally, we have arrived in the 21st century and we are in San Francisco on August 9th, 2005. This was the opening date of the very first coworking space as we know them. Brad Neuberg, often known as 'the guy that started coworking', opened the very first coworking space at Spiral Muse, a space that branded itself 'a home for well-being'. Neuberg's coworking offered free wifi, shared lunches and desk space.

From Brad Neuberg's coworking onwards, modern coworking spaces have exploded; since 2006, the number of coworking spaces has doubled each year! In San Francisco alone there are now hundreds of coworking places, and in London, 2.5 million square feet of space is leased to coworking providers.


Despite the name 'coworking' being coined only very recently, the concept of coworking has been evolving over the course of six centuries. Coworking businesses throughout history have been adapting themselves to the demands and needs of the people they are serving. 

At OneCoWork, we strive every day to evolve and meet the needs of our members. Although coworking may not be a new concept, we are shaking things up with innovative designs and unique networking events. We just like to think we are creating the best spaces possible for the modern, 21st-century human.

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