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Fern Gully meets Wall Street: Inside a NYC co-working space

Not too many workplaces feature regular in-person talks from gurus like Deepak Chopra. But The Assemblage in Lower Manhattan is not your average workplace.

The moment you enter the seemingly-non-descript office block – right next door to the late Anthony Bourdain's famous brasserie Les Halles and just blocks from New York Stock Exchange and beating heart of American commerce – you are transported to a world away.

The hallway is more Fern Gully than Wall Street, clad with thick green preserved moss – an immediate nod to the green philosophy than underpins the building's occupants and financial backers.

As you reach the trendy reception staff of the boutique hotel and co-working space, you are offered the chance of an affirmation and the ability to take the spiritual-looking herbs with you on your way, no doubt providing you with a zen-like state throughout the afternoon meetings and traffic of the daily grind.

Co-working spaces have grown in the business consciousness, no longer the domain of starry-eyed start-ups thrown out of mum's basement, but increasingly the option of choice for many serious consultants, professionals and even corporations. Indeed, accounting and advisory giant Deloitte describes their escalation on the commercial real estate scene as "phenomenal".

But The Assemblage likes to think of itself as more than just a co-working space. Its website describes it as a "coworking, coliving and community space in New York City for those who believe in doing well by doing good". Its tagline is "collaboration for the future of humanity". 

In addition to the sessions with Mr Chopra, members are pampered with facilities that cater to their "consciousness and wellbeing" including an ayurvedic food program and kundalini yoga sessions and opportunity to find peace at an Assemblage-owned lakehouse in upstate New York. 

Businesses who want to join the "community" but don't subscribe to the higher purpose are told "there is a WeWork just down the road", the company's well-groomed chief operating officer,  Vincent Mikolay, tells me. 

For those that have followed the rapid entry of health and wellbeing considerations into mainsteam business discourse – as documented so well in Australia by Wellness Daily – this green, conscious and enlightened workspace in the world's financial centre is perhaps not so surprising.

What may be more eyebrow-raising however, is that the focus on wellness was not just driven by the tenants in their dream of a healthier work community – it was also driven by the business's hard-nosed investors.

The Assemblage was founded by Rodrigo Nino, a Colombian-born pioneer in global equity crowdfunding, and was bankrolled by Nino's Prodigy Network.

Prodigy Network – which has a partnership with Aussie crowdfunding pioneer DomaCom – raised US$440 million from investors including corporate high-flyers like Deutsche Bank, as well as a wide range of American sophisticated and high-net-worth individuals.

The fundraising project's leader, Leonard Chinchay, tells me that it wasn't location or pure economics or a sexy pitch that got many of their investors over the line: it was the wellness philosophy of the business they wanted to create within the property's walls.

"They believed in our vision and understood what we were trying to achieve," Mr Chinchay said.

The comments suggest a turning point in the worlds of commercial property and office leasing. A focus on health, wellbeing and environmental factors are no longer luxuries for niche operators on the fringes, but a major concern for serious employers and investors.

I for one, feel more enlightened and uplifted than I usually would conducting an interview on a commercial property transaction.

But stepping out into the New York traffic, i'm not sure how long it will last.

Aleks Vickovich is an award-winning journalist and a managing editor at Momentum Media.

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