Stockholm's Alma is the Anti-WeWork

Fredrik Carlström, founder of the co-working space and members' club aimed at creative industries, has a plan to cultivate a genuine sense of community—starting with a restoration of the city's last single-screen cinema.

Fredrik Carlström in the 700-seat Alma Park.

Fredrik Carlström is fascinated by community, particularly what it is about space that makes things happen versus not. “I was just in Indochine and it’s been around for 35 years in the sheen of New York, and that’s unheard of,” he says. “It’s a combination of the food, the atmosphere, the people, the service. It’s magic.” 

Carlström knows a thing or two about our modern tribes, having cultivated one himself as the founder and creative director of Alma, a members’ club and coworking space in Stockholm. From its inception in 2017, he set out to be the anti-WeWork. Every detail was considered and spaces are pared-down but sophisticated—nary a neon sign with an inspirational message to be found. Carlström considered it his job to make things hard so that everything, from the design to the experience, was best-in-class.

Billed as a space for creatives and entrepreneurs, Alma’s programming has stood out for its quality and diversity. On any given day the agenda is filled with breathing breakfasts, pop-up kitchenware shops, book launches, or a lecture from an astronomer. But when a historic single-screen theater from the golden era of cinema became available down the street, Carlström knew they had to buy it. Designed by Swedish architect Björn Hedvall, one of the masters of functionalism, it’s the last remaining single-screen theater in the country and considered one of Hedvall’s masterworks. “It’s sort of Brutalism meets Scandinavian minimalism, but like it has a bit of Brutalism with a heart, you know what I mean? It has softness to it,” Carlström says. 

To assist with the restoration, he tapped architectural firm and long-time Alma members Kjellgren & Kaminsky. Their touch was lite—much of the original detailing was in good condition, including handblown flowers, dark wood panels, and a fountain. New additions include a café and bar run by Alma chef Gordon Grimlund, and new half-moon lounge seating near the stage front.

Park is currently hosting the Stockholm International Film Festival’s 30th Anniversary and will be showing films through November 17. After that, it will serve as an event space for screenings, performance art, product launches, and private group experiences once the rentable apartment above it is finished.

Next up for Alma: a second location in Stockholm, an outpost in Palma, and a living room–style club in New York. Located in Manhattan’s NoHo neighborhood, Alma Great Jones will double as a shoppable showroom for Swedish brands and communal hangout for salon-style dinners. Carlström envisions a cluster of spaces in New York that cater to creatives and media, especially those involved in hospitality, travel, and food and wine. “They have specific needs like a test kitchen and a really nice bar. Food is important to those people. You can’t have a commissary with shitty coffee. You need the good stuff, right?” he says. “If you’re an editor or a blogger, then you probably need an editing suite and a room to record your podcast.”  

To Carlström, community is more than a marketing buzzword, it’s the core purpose of Alma’s expansion plan. He’s been thinking about Bell Labs lately, particularly the 1950s when it produced more Nobel Prize winners and laureates than anyone else in the world. “They started looking at why and it came down to this one guy, Harry Nyqvist. He had these dinner parties and the people who went to the dinners won prizes. The ones that didn’t, didn’t,” he says of the late engineer. A few meetings with people at Nobel and Bell Labs only fueled his growing curiosity. “They all said a version of the same thing: community.” 

He’s also been voraciously consuming academic books on the subject, such as Michael P. Farrell’s Collaborative Circles, which explores group dynamics from the French Impressionists to Sigmund Freud and friends. “When people collaborate, even mediocre people become great,” he says. “It’s not rocket science. It’s human. And what do we want? We want to eat, we want to drink, we want to be around nice people. We want to have fun. It isn’t the media tech brands talking about shit.”

(Photos by Emil Fagander)

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