Together with his partner Axel Kuborn, Alexander Ponchon cofounded Silversquare, a company that has revolutionised the concept of the shared office space. For three years, the duo has continued pushing their quest for uniqueness by collaborating with Belgian designers, artists and creators.
For three years, you have collaborated with Belgian designers on the interior of Silversquare-branded workspaces, but your desire to revolutionise the shared office concept is nothing new. Can you explain it to us?
Ten years ago, my partner, Axel Kuborn was working on another entrepreneurial concept when he found an article in the New York Times about a site where American writers would get together to write and to share their daily lives. Without wanting to copy/paste, we transposed the idea by creating a new concept adapted to Belgium. With Silversquare, we aim to offer the users of our workspaces a ‘full option’ formula that gives them all the services they need, but also an inspiring space.
This idea of inspiration is even clearer today, since you turned to Belgian talents to design your spaces.
Silversquare has been around now for 12 years, and it’s been a long journey. At first, we went for a traditional décor. The idea was to provide an ideal location: an office on Louise Avenue (Brussels) with a great view, for example. We always wanted to position ourselves as game changers, by reinventing the concept of the future office. At first, we did everything ourselves, even planning how partitions were positioned in the offices. Once we started working with architects, our idea of the intelligent workspace took a turn. One of our partners, Xavier Houven, gave us the idea to work with designers for the interiors.
The first to take part was Lionel Jadot, for Silversquare Triomphe.
Until then, we had worked on intelligent space planning, but not really on the office design. Our architects’ idea was simple but brilliant: a question of seeing it through the prism of a designer. But while we had no doubts about Lionel Jadot’s talent, his proposals both excited and unsettled us. For this workspace, Lionel Jadot revisited the concept of the false ceiling and installed a hammock instead of a floor. Individually, his objects and materials seemed completely alien. It was the sum of the selected elements that brought it all together.
In your approach and that of the designers, the dimension of pleasure is central. Explain this to us.
When we asked Justine de Moriamé and Erika Schillebeeckx, founders of Studio Krjst, to design Silversquare Bailli, we knew that their universe, so far removed from our own, would shake up our reference points. That was the goal in fact. Apart from the office chairs which, for reasons of ergonomics, must meet certain standards, the rest of the furnishings were designed by the Krjst duo. These two designers, who have created a big separation between fashion and textile art, have a very rich background. Their work is imbued with a real quest for meaning that inevitably appealed to us. During the project development, when they suggested erotic frescoes in the washrooms, we hesitated for a moment before concluding that they were right. We had to take the risk.
Taking risks is moving forward?
We believe so. If we were content to make each new space a replica of the previous one, in five years or under our concept would run out of steam. We want to simplify urban mobility with about 30 locations in the next few years, in order to offer the inhabitants of Brussels and Walloons shared office spaces only 20 minutes from their homes, but also to give our collaborators the opportunity to suggest designers and artists (painters, musicians, etc.) whose universes may complement ours, or even shake it up.
And all while respecting local environments.
More than ever, Silversquare wants to be positioned as a key player in the economic and social fabric of the city or region. It seems to us more coherent to entrust a local designer with designing a workspace. We recently chose Jean Paul Lespagnard to work on the Silversquare Liège offices, which should open by 2022. Inspired by his many travels, his quite whimsical universe sums up the daring and the open spirit demonstrated by the Belgian talents with whom we collaborate.