Rooms with a Viewpoint
“You’re lucky, Anisse, we got a flat tire and had to turn around.” That nail in the road saved me from my worst nightmare: communal living. Don’t get me wrong, I like people, but when it comes to chore wheels and weekly group meetings with mandatory I-statements, I’m out.
Still, the concept fascinates me. So I set out to find a home in San Francisco that had a twist, something different from the usual hippie crash pad, to learn what’s so great about sharing one’s precious living space. That’s how I discovered TheGlint, a mansion in Twin Peaks described as a “hero accelerator.”
If you’re not familiar with the concept of an accelerator, it’s an organization that helps start-ups transform into successful companies, providing them with funding, mentorship, and space. So what’s a “hero accelerator”? Well, TheGlint, founded by Damian Madray, Charles Lee, and Alexandros Pagidas, assists “modern day heroes” with a social conscience. By giving them a collaborative creative live/work space where their ideas can thrive, they hope to support innovations that will eventually have an international impact.
When I arrive, I expect to find a bunch of 21-year-old guys in pajamas eating hot pockets and playing video games. Instead, I see 15 people huddled around a white leather couch, looking not at the spectacular view, but their laptops. They’re deeply absorbed in their work, throwing out words like template, WordPress, and forum systems. To me, they might as well be speaking Martian, but the hive of activity is infectious. I even feel a pang of jealousy. For a second, I see myself for what I am – a writer who works in isolation.
TheGlint complex is four stories, with a spiral staircase spinning down the middle like a spine. It’s extremely minimal, as residents seem to have few needs aside from their trusty laptops and each other. Aesthetic relief is provided by rotating art courtesy of Get Art Up, a company that outfits homes and offices around the city with local art. A Jenny Odell collage made from Google map images of salt ponds is currently up.
The house can hold 16 people at any given time, comprised of permanent residents, visiting fellows, and guests, all sharing rooms that are often packed with bunk beds. There’s even a space for guests to come and stay through Airbnb. But not just anyone can stay at TheGlint. No matter how little time guests spend there, they have to contribute in some way to the larger goals of the household. And the most important part of fielding potential members is finding the right people.
On the second floor, I see someone designing a T-shirt, and another guy concentrating on creating a new form of currency. While there is only one woman in the house at the moment, it doesn’t feel male-centric. In fact, everyone I meet defies my stereotypes of both a tech geek and a communal household member. There’s the intensely passionate Greek philosopher Alexandros, the dapper Bjoern, whose Startup Genome Project compiles knowledge from Silicon Valley experts in the hopes of cracking the DNA of innovation, and the ebullient Chelsea Rustrum, who is working on the new sharing economy. The range at TheGlint is astounding. But they all have one thing in common: very little idle time. I don’t spot a single person wasting hours on Facebook, reading celebrity gossip, or playing solitaire. So that’s how you change the world!
On my way out, I glide down the spiral staircase to say good-bye and find four young men standing in a circle. Instead of programming, they’re talking about love and relationships. Daniel, a rosy-cheeked 22-year-old, is telling the story of how unrequited love inspired his current online dating start-up. He tells the other guys, “Even though I’m not going to mitigate the potency of that pain, it’s nothing but a slim shadow of the ecstasy of having a dream and working to achieve it.” They all smile, stunned by his eloquence. It’s then that I see it – the glint– and it’s more than just a sparkle in their eyes.