The Working Capitol: Neighbourhood builder in Keong Saik

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/ EdgeProp Singapore
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February 21, 2020 8:06 AM SGT
The Working Capitol offers the option for clients to hold events at its dedicated space of about 3,000 sq ft (Credit: The Working Capitol)
The Working Capitol offers the option for clients to hold events at its dedicated space of about 3,000 sq ft (Credit: The Working Capitol)
SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - Since opening its first co-working space in the Keong Saik enclave, The Working Capitol has injected vibrancy into the neighbourhood. At its first co-working space at 1 Keong Saik Road, members enter through a cafe on the first level – abuzz with activity and informal chatter – and go up a stairway to the second storey that opens out to a more conducive, charming workplace offering.
The neighbourhood has become livelier since 2017. Through its sister company, The Bamboo Group, lifestyle and hospitality brand Potato Head was brought into the neighbourhood that year, which then paved the way for other F&B concepts to sprout up. The result – a thriving precinct that bagged the title of top 10 travel destinations in Asia by travel guide Lonely Planet in the same year.
The Working Capitol at 89 Neil Road (Credit: The Working Capitol)
The Working Capitol at 89 Neil Road (Credit: The Working Capitol)

Redefining work and play

Championing the role of a “neighbourhood builder”, Ben Gattie, co-founder of The Working Capitol, shares that the area was very different before it came on the scene. “It was neither a lifestyle destination, nor a working destination,” he says.
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Today, The Working Capitol operates some 70,000 sq ft of co-working spaces across four neighbouring shophouses in Keong Saik, and curates F&B tenants such as unagi restaurant Man Man (which made Singapore Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand list), Meta Restaurant (awarded one Michelin star), and Neon Pigeon, which brands itself as a “modern Izakaya”, among other good eats.
More recently, it welcomed its latest addition to the neighbourhood at 89 Neil Road – American fast food chain Shake Shack, which officially opened its doors on Feb 7.
One of the breakout spaces at The Working Capitol (Credit: The Working Capitol)
One of the breakout spaces at The Working Capitol (Credit: The Working Capitol)
The Working Capitol’s co-working members are currently at 500-strong, and range from those working out of hotdesks, private offices, to its dedicated “enterprise solutions” – bespoke office spaces for 10 people or larger.
Gattie shares that initially, its members were creative agencies which identified with the space. Membership has since expanded to tech, fintech and finance firms. Payments platform Stripe, for instance, took up a two-year lease at the co-working space. “They started with us at five people, then expanded to 16, eventually taking up a space for about 90 people,” he says. Stripe moved out at end-January.
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The Working Capitol has welcomed its latest addition to the neighbourhood at 89 Neil Road – American fast food chain Shake Shack, which officially opened its doors on Feb 7 (Credit: Shake Shack)
The Working Capitol has welcomed its latest addition to the neighbourhood at 89 Neil Road – American fast food chain Shake Shack, which officially opened its doors on Feb 7 (Credit: Shake Shack)

Growing into the neighbourhood

To create a lifestyle hub at Keong Saik, having the two anchoring sites – 1 Keong Saik and 89 Neil Road – was crucial, says Gattie. With that, “you can really curate your events and offer F&B selections”, he explains. Apart from running co-working spaces and curating eateries, The Working Capitol also co-hosts events with its partners, and offers the option for clients to hold events at its dedicated space of about 3,000 sq ft. Altogether, these factors helped create a “harmonious synergy” that in turn led to a community “that is quite loyal and partial to the way we do things”, he says.
Focusing on the three complementary concepts – co-working, events and F&B – has also helped The Working Capitol to diversify its risks, and increase profit margins through multiple revenue streams, says Gattie.
Gattie aims to increase The Working Capitol’s existing size by about 50,000 sq ft by end-2020 (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Gattie aims to increase The Working Capitol’s existing size by about 50,000 sq ft by end-2020 (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
But all these could not have been achieved without first having a strong relationship with the neighbouring landlords, who are typically the mom-and-pop types, reveals Gattie. “They like that you can bring in all the facility management and maintenance expertise, as well as the creative concepts,” he says. “It’s kind of a win-win, because they get somebody whom they know is going to care for their property and bring in the best tenant profiles and tenant mix, which is then going to better the neighbourhood as a whole.”
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The company’s relationship with its landlords has been forged over time, says Gattie. The addition of the space at 89 Neil Road to The Working Capitol was in fact discussed over four years with the landlord. “They know us, and saw what we were doing at 1 Keong Saik,” he says.
At its first co-working space at 1 Keong Saik Road, members enter through a cafe on the first level – abuzz with activity and informal chatter – and up a stairway to the second storey that opens out to a more conducive, charming workplace offering (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
At its first co-working space at 1 Keong Saik Road, members enter through a cafe on the first level – abuzz with activity and informal chatter – and up a stairway to the second storey that opens out to a more conducive, charming workplace offering (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)

Shophouse facade and architecture

Being housed in shophouses offers The Working Capitol opportunities to highlight the unique layouts. Unlike typical office buildings, which are more uniform in shape, shophouses open up nooks and crannies that allow for creative interpretation.
The space at 1 Keong Saik comprises five adjoining three-storey shophouses which were completely gutted and overhauled. On the third floor, 30% of the roof was ripped out to let in natural light, which helps create a “dramatic impact” in the space. “We went through quite an arduous process,” Gattie lets on, as these are conserved buildings and came with restrictions.
On the third floor of 1 Keong Saik, 30% of the roof was ripped out to let in natural light (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
On the third floor of 1 Keong Saik, 30% of the roof was ripped out to let in natural light (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
The Working Capitol also brought in local artists such as Ripple Root to brighten up the facade of the shophouses with murals. “It really transformed what the space was – it used to be this dark alley and some of our neighbours used to dump their rubbish there,” he shares.
The murals have helped to transform a dark alleyway that used to be a dumping ground (Credit: Ripple Root)
The murals have helped to transform a dark alleyway that used to be a dumping ground (Credit: Ripple Root)

Looking ahead

In the face of the Covid-19 outbreak, Gattie reveals that The Working Capitol has adjusted to “more conservative projections as we adapt ourselves and our community to the new environment”.
“Concern has largely been over big CBD buildings with large footprints and common infrastructure, with more people,” he adds. “[In contrast], we are dealing in shophouses where there are communal areas but people are largely in their own space.”
The Working Capitol operates some 70,000 sq ft of co-working spaces across four neighbouring shophouses (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
The Working Capitol operates some 70,000 sq ft of co-working spaces across four neighbouring shophouses (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
However, The Working Capitol’s events arm has been directly impacted, as people avoid large crowds for fear of contagion. For those who have already booked slots for its event space, The Working Capitol is putting in terms for postponing events and helping its partners “mitigate their risk”. It is also giving them the opportunity to plan for dates later in the year when the situation is “hopefully more contained”, he says.
The Working Capitol remains undeterred in its expansion plans. Gattie aims to increase its existing size by about 50,000 sq ft by end-2020. “We’ve secured a few more shophouses within the immediate vicinity – there’s one larger site, and some smaller ones as well,” he says.
“Over here at Keong Saik, we’ve really anchored the neighbourhood and I want to continue to build on that. That will be our focus for the foreseeable future,” Gattie adds.
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