Its plain, cold metal exterior might fool you, but step into Vuka, a massive warehouse in the midst of the Bouldin Creek neighborhood, and you can’t help but feel as if you’ve discovered a South Austin gem. Its nature-chic decor evokes a warm feel that’s made Vuka, a contemporary gathering space, a popular place to work and play.
By day, Vuka brings together social entrepreneurs and freelancers who seek an alternative to working out of a traditional office space or coffee shop. By night, Vuka transforms into a venue for weddings or yoga classes. And if members like the repurposed furnishings, Vuka also sells them.
Co-working has gained popularity globally in recent years as more people who would typically work from home seek to mingle and collaborate with like-minded professionals. Austin boasts several co-working spaces, including Conjunctured in East Austin, Capital Factory downtown and Tech Ranch in North Austin.
“The common thread is these people are natural collaborators but are on islands,” says Vuka founder Brian Schoenbaum, who also heads Intentional Dwellings, a holistic design/build firm. “Here are all the leaders of their own companies able to sit across (from one another). They want to hear you, support you and collaborate.”
Co-working members at Vuka can range from nonprofit organizations to health and wellness companies. On a recent afternoon, a brainstorming session had a team of people scribbling ideas on a large piece of paper tacked onto a wall. Other Vuka members typed away on their laptops while sitting at long communal tables. One man, tablet in hand, choose to relax in a cozy nook surrounded by coffee bean bag pillows. Even Schoenbaum’s dog, Koda, played and lounged at Vuka.
Vuka means “to awaken” in Zulu, and Schoenbaum envisioned creating a beautifully designed space that would bring people together to do “what lights them up,” he says. Vuka launched in 2012, at first focused as an events space, then later redefined the concept of a community center by encouraging its members to not only dream big but connect with one another. “It’s been a case study in how we can create something that is inspiring and supportive of each individual,” Schoenbaum says.
At Vuka, the zen-like atmosphere plus creative energy seem to attract socially conscious businesses determined to effect change. Monthly fees start at $175 for undesignated desks that allow for workstation-hopping, but members can also rent specific desks or offices. Vuka recently expanded, creating a space for co-working and another for events. Both large areas feature speciality lighting from materials such as dried dwarf yaupon trees or recovered tree branches from wildfires affecting Spicewood. Half of the tables were built using reclaimed materials and the other half were built by local artisans.
“It feels more like a spa than a co-working space,” says new Vuka member Melanie Weinberger. “It’s refreshing.” Weinberger launched health and wellness company Fit Steady and recently sat down at one of the communal tables and introduced herself to everyone. Sitting next to her was someone who creates health care software, a potentially perfect collaborator for her new business. They’re planning to get coffee together soon.
“When you are forging your own path, you want someone to lean on,” Weinberger says. “It’s tough creating something new.” She’s drawn to Vuka for the healthy lifestyle atmosphere Schoenbaum, the staff and a council of 12 advisers have created. Since Fit Steady provides on-site wellness to offices across Austin, Vuka and Weinberger are also partnering up. She hopes to bring more fitness opportunities to Vuka members, but also offer fitness services to companies who come to Vuka for soon-to-be launched office retreats in the event space.
For Daniel Kietzer, Vuka has provided a professional but cool work environment. Kietzer works for the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, a nonprofit that decided to relocate to Vuka after outgrowing its traditional office space. It has five full-time employees who are constantly traveling, leaving the employees behind alone in the office.
“I don’t have five co-workers anymore,” Kietzer says. “I have a room full of people.” He says being able to step into the space’s backyard or take a break among the inviting interiors has also helped with his work/life balance.
Over the years, the warehouse on Monroe Street has undergone many incarnations, from a government documents storage facility to a car museum. As the space continues to evolve, Schoenbaum says, he hopes Vuka “supports people in waking up” in whatever ways inspire them. “Vuka isn’t what I want it to be,” Schoenbaum says. “It’s what the community wants it to be.”
For more information about Vuka co-working and event space, visit vukaaustin.com or call 512-761-3842.
Vuka, 411 W. Monroe St.