Mt. Airy Nexus co-working space creates ‘aura of fun at work’

The Northwest Philly neighborhood of Mt. Airy is a leafy green gem along the Wissahickon, a diverse and relatively quiet neighborhood within a maze of winding hilly streets. Near Carpenter and Greene streets in Mt. Airy, where small local businesses flourish in an outcropping known to some locals as Mt. Airy Village, the neighborhood’s identity is expanding to include a new sustainability-minded co-working space.

Mt. Airy Nexus is the name of a new co-working office space on the lower level of 520 Carpenter Lane, a new 22-unit condo. The building has solar panels, a green roof and other design elements to reduce its environmental impact and is slated for LEED Platinum certification. But it doesn’t stop there: inside Nexus, re-used and up-cycled items are everywhere in a space designed with a mid-century modern aesthetic.

Descending into Nexus, co-workers arriving to start their day are greeted by an entire wall of so-called “mushroom wood” that originated in Kennett Square farms – gnarled wood, reclaimed from mushroom crates, which has an otherworldly quality, color and texture from long exposure to fungi. Up-cycled art made using little plastic bread bag tabs and light fixtures made of recycled plastic bottles all fit into the sustainable aesthetic. 

“We’re trying to create a 7,000-square-foot curiosity cabinet,” said Max Zahniser, a LEED architect, sustainability professor at Drexel and Philadelphia universities, and founder and CEO of Mt. Airy Nexus. He is also CEO of Sustainability Nexus, which runs CityCoHo, MANC’s larger sister coworking space in Center CIty at 24th and Walnut streets. “That experience of discovery and re-discovery is a big part of creating the aura of fun at work.”

Coworkers are seen at tables in one of the common areas in Mt. Airy Nexus, a new sustainability-minded co-working space in Mt. Airy. (Courtesy of Mt. Airy Nexus)

Coworkers are seen at tables in one of the common areas in Mt. Airy Nexus, a new sustainability-minded co-working space in Mt. Airy. (Courtesy of Mt. Airy Nexus)

Zahniser said the aesthetic can combine “fun” with environmental principles, like in reusing non-recyclable items and giving them new, more lasting uses, or “up-cycling” them. That’s why Mt. Airy Nexus has few conventional lighting fixtures – some rooms are illuminated by recycled plastic bottles, and the kitchen area by an old pig trough. The aesthetic goes down to the old-fashioned, reusable, cloth-roll towel dryer in the bathroom – which was determined to be the most sustainable type of hand dryer.

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Mt. Airy Nexus officially opened in October to individuals and companies renting co-working space or private offices, but has also been welcoming its community in for scattered free co-working days, to watch Eagles games, and for community board-game nights. Tenants include a local chapter of the Sierra Club and a neighborhood therapist. Mt. Airy organizations have begun holding meetings in Nexus’ conference rooms – after Hurricane Florence, a group of local women spent the evening knitting blankets for families displaced by the storm.

The presence of Mt. Airy Nexus at 520 Carpenter Lane is a huge added value for the entire community as well as condo owners, said developer Scott Seibert, whose company Bancroft Green also has its office space in Nexus. The recently completed three-story mixed-use building has 22 condos sold-out condos and was designed by Re:Vision Architecture. The site’s environmental impact is currently reduced by features like a flourishing green roof, a solar-thermal array powering its heating and central water distribution, and an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) unit that exchanges air inside and outside the building to maintain air quality and comfortable temperatures while using less energy.

“The whole reason that I wanted to develop this building is I feel like we need more places as a society to come together and create community,” Seibert said. “It’s why I moved out to Mt. Airy. “There’s always reasons for people to meet and convene. …  Already, seeing the kind of interactions we’re having in the community is heart-warming.”

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Seibert’s goals for this building dovetailed with Zahniser’s green building ethos, and thus Mt. Airy Nexus was born.

The green roof on top of 520 Carpenter Lane, the mixed-use development that includes Mt. Airy Nexus on its lower level. (Courtesy of Mt. Airy Nexus)

The green roof on top of 520 Carpenter Lane, the mixed-use development that includes Mt. Airy Nexus on its lower level. (Courtesy of Mt. Airy Nexus)

Mt. Airy Nexus is the step-sister of CityCoHo at 24th and Walnut in Center City, designed to be a hub and workspace for  sustainability professionals, operatives, advocates, and innovators, also opened by Zahniser in a LEED building. There are several other coworking spaces in Center City, and several around Northwest Philly, such as Kismet in Chestnut Hill and Work Mt. Airy. But the Nexus sites are specifically designed with an ethos of anchoring and connecting members of a sustainability-focused community.

“It’s actual co-working – being in a space and being able to benefit off of what other people are doing,” said John Autin, Mt. Airy Nexus’ community manager. 

Nexus does have “Mid-century modern, granola-Google, Incredibles 2 type of furniture. But everything is up-cycled or has a really strong end of life,” Autin said. Looking around one conference room, Autin points out recycled carpets, vintage architectural lamps along the ceiling lighting the room, and the table itself, made with wood reclaimed from the joists of the single-story warehouse that formerly occupied the site the Mt. Airy Nexus building now stands on.

What may be Mt. Airy Nexus’ most visible success is that, for all the sustainable design elements, it doesn’t feel like it offers any less than any other typical office space. 

“In the green buildings movement, we’re up against the idea that it’s a sacrifice – which often reflect a lack of design confidence,” Zahniser said. “That just creates a challenge. We can build something cooler that is also way more responsible.”

To learn more, visit mtairynex.usMetro Philly is currently a tenant of CityCoHo/Mt. Airy Nexus.

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