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At work with: Malaika Byng, editor-in-chief, The Spaces

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This morning we’re at work with Malaika Byng of the digital architecture, property and design magazine The Spaces. Launched last year, the website explores new ways of living and working: its stories feature the spaces that are transforming how we live and interact with one another, from public domains and co-working offices to homes and retail spots.

When it comes to architecture and property articles, I now regularly find myself directed to The Spaces through links on social media – the magazine has grown quickly and effectively this past year. We catch up with Malaika to hear about the strategy behind the launch of the online platform.

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Where are you today?
At my desk in Soho. We’re on the top floor of an old industrial building, with a vaulted roof, big windows and lots of natural light. There’s a bit of a jungle growing up here.

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What can you see from the window?
Soho rooftops, Centre Point and a thicket of cranes in the distance.

Are you a morning or an evening person?
I wish I could say morning but I find the snooze button too irresistible. The best ideas always come to me in the evening.

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Which magazine do you first remember?
My first introduction to magazines was not exactly high brow – it was titles like Just Seventeen while at school! So initially it was via mass culture. I started to appreciate magazines as design objects a little later.

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What’s your favourite magazine this morning?
Digital magazine The Calvert Journal. It’s niche but good… a guide to something I didn’t even know I had an interest in: the ‘new east’. It covers the post-Soviet world, the Balkans and the once socialist states of central eastern Europe, mixing architecture, art and design with intriguing stories and lots of concrete – which is a great combination. And it’s beautifully designed.

I switch my allegiances all the time though. Tomorrow morning it’ll be something else…!

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What’s your favourite space in London this morning?
I’m always drawn to spaces that are off limits. I’ve never actually set foot in this one but every morning I pass by a vast Victorian building called Blythe House. It’s big and foreboding… I always thought it looked like an asylum before I discovered it was actually built as the HQ for the Post Office Savings Bank, designed by Sir Henry Tanner, and is now a store and archive for the V&A, Science and British Museums. Part of it was beautifully renovated by Haworth Tompkins and turned into the Clothworkers’ Centre a few years ago. It’s not open to the public but you can visit the Clothworkers’ Centre by appointment, which I must do soon. There are probably some incredible treasures stashed away in the building… although I doubt you are allowed to see many of them. Museum archives definitely stir my imagination.

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The Spaces launched in 2015 and it’s quickly become one of the go-to web magazines for architecture and property related stories. What was your strategy this past year?
Our first year has been about honing our brand identity, making sure that we position ourselves as an authority on design and property, while having a broad, consumer appeal. We launched The Spaces because we saw a gap for a magazine that brings together these areas in a really compelling and visual fashion. Our aim is to ask questions about our cities and explore how the way people use space is changing in the digital era. We focus on the people and spaces that are doing things differently, hence our strapline: ‘Exploring new ways to live and work.’

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So the last 12 months have been about making sure we offer something unlike any other brand. It’s also been an exciting process of experimenting and responding to what our readers find most engrossing. Our rapid growth (and high engagement) on social – particularly Facebook and Instagram – has been really encouraging.

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And what plans do you have for this upcoming year?
We’ll be putting an increasing emphasis on video content and we have a number of new series ideas in the pipeline… all top secret of course! We’re also working on off-line projects, such as books and a potential talks programme. We plan to publish one or two books a year. These will call on leading critics, curators, artists, architects and photographers to examine how we use the spaces around us. They’ll also celebrate the printed form.

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Nearly half of your team is made up of social media editors. How does social inform the kind of content that you’re creating?
We find a large proportion of our stories for the website via social, from buildings that have been freshly transformed to photo essays on particular styles of architecture. We use it to find original content and stories that are beginning to be shared a lot – hopefully publishing them at the just the right moment that they explode via our own social platforms. There are lots of tools to help you find what’s starting to take off. It can all get quite geeky…

We also use social media as a way to test out new feature ideas in miniature and we create content exclusively for it. Website traffic is by no means the only goal these days… social sites are publishing platforms in their own right.

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What other publishing projects has The Spaces team been working on recently?
We published our first book – Home Economics – last month in collaboration with REAL Foundation and designed by OK-RM. It proposes five new models for the home, asking us to reimagine how we live through the lens of time. The book accompanies the British Pavilion’s exhibition of the same name at the Venice Biennale, taking its ideas and expanding on them with contributions from writers, architects and artists.

What are you most looking forward to this week?
September brings a burst of exhibition openings. This week I’m particularly looking forward to the opening of a new art, fashion and design hub, 180 The Strand. It’s an old Brutalist landmark by Frederick Gibberd on the river and it kicks off with the Hayward Gallery’s first ever off-site show, The Infinite Mix: Sound and Image in Contemporary Video, curated in collaboration with our sister brand The Vinyl Factory. There’ll multi-screen video installations and hologram projections by the likes of Jeremy Deller, Martin Creed and Cyprien Gaillard.

I’m also curious about London’s first Design Biennale, which starts tomorrow at Somerset House.

What are you least looking forward to this week?
Admin. Lots of it.

What will you be doing after this chat?
Grabbing a coffee and plotting the week ahead.

thespaces.com

@thespaces

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