Co-working in Italy

Whether you are in Auckland, Sydney or New York, co-working spaces all have the same vibe. They might be housed in an old warehouse or a modern building, but inside they tend to all share a similar aesthetic and attract the same sort of tenants. This even holds true for Biella, the small northern Italian town where my partner and I live for part of the year.

My Italy workspace is SellaLab, a re-purposed, 19th century former textile mill, owned by the Sella family. The family started out in textiles in the 16th century and subsequently moved into banking. A smart move as it turns out. While sadly, Biella’s once thriving textile industry has now almost vanished, Sella’s banking business is growing and innovating.

Having sat derelict for decades, the Sella textile mill buildings are slowly being renovated and now house the innovation centre for the Sella Bank, an incubator for FinTech start-ups, a FabLab and the co-working space called SellaLab. A bustling hub of innovation in an otherwise beautiful but traditional Italian town.


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Fondazione Prada

The unpretentious signage and modest industrial look of the entrance building gives no hint to the extraordinary environment within. Created in a re-purposed brewery in a suburb of Milan by architect Rem Koolhaas, Fondazione Prada has an impressive contemporary art collection. Even the gallery attendants, in their grey and black Prada uniforms, look like artworks.

And they don’t  just look stylish. Unlike other art institutions where attendants see their role as barking at visitors not to get too close to the artworks, these attendants are all art or art history graduates who are there to talk with you about the collection and the curated shows.

Then when you need a break from taking in so much art and architectural detail, you can have a snack and glass of wine at the Wes Anderson designed Bar Luce – more stylish and less camp than a Wes Anderson film.


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Siena – back to school

I arrived in Siena in late May. It was cold and drizzly that weekend, but as the taxi climbed the hill from the station towards the medieval town, the distinctive sight of the stripy black and white bell tower of the Duomo was so exhilarating nothing could dampen my spirits. I was there to spend a month studying Italian language.

The language school is based in a 17th century building, originally a school for deaf mute children (sordomuti). The walls are lined with beautiful black and white photographs of the children and their teachers. If you can learn a language by soaking up the environment, then I was in the right place. The renaissance building, the views out to the Tuscan countryside, the images of students conquering learning despite difficulties – what could be more inspiring.

For the next four weeks I immersed myself in Italian. I spent my mornings in class and the afternoons exploring Siena. Famous for its Duomo, the Palio horserace and the many delicious varieties of paneforte (Siena cake to the English). A whole month meant I could get under the skin of this place … and let it get under my skin.

During that month I was lucky enough to befriend an elderly couple – Angela and Viviano. We made a mutually beneficial arrangement where I would go there for dinner 2-3 nights a week and improve my language my chatting with them over dinner. Angela was a great cook and had the equivalent of a garden allotment in which she grew an almost commercial quantity of vegetables. My conversational Italian improved, I learned about Tuscan food and got a rare insiders view to Siena.


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