The Workplace of the Future Design Competition revealed a wealth of fresh ideas and a bit of uncertainty about exactly where we’re headed.
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Filippelli’s project imagined a continuum of environments, from private to public, hot to cold, bright to dark. “I was interested in the concept of gradient, pulled through with temperature, lighting, privacy, social interaction,” he says.
Courtesy Joseph Filippelli
The work space of a Cold War–era Titan II missile-launch team was a circular room, 35 feet in diameter. The commander sat at a gray-and-turquoise steel desk, in front of a console embedded with illuminated buttons and switches. One “resembled the ignition switch of an old car,” as the journalist Eric Schlosser describes in his recent book Command and Control (Penguin, 2013). Turned with the proper key, it launched the 330,000-pound missile sitting ready in an adjacent silo—the delivery vehicle for a thermonuclear warhead. It required collaboration: a second launch commander had to simultaneously turn an additional key, as a fail-safe against a rogue ofﬁcer. To ensure compliance, each wore a sidearm. Nearby, a kitchen was stocked with a month’s supply of food—not in case of afternoon munchies, but Armageddon. As extreme as it sounds today, the silo loomed large in the popular imagination. “The room had the strong, conﬁdent vibe of Eisenhower-era science and technology,” Schlosser writes. This was the workplace of the future when the future wasn’t an altogether pleasant construction—or even a forgone conclusion.
The reminder of that Cold War mentality stopped me in my tracks while I was considering the more optimistic winners and ﬁnalists of the ﬁrst annual Workplace of the Future Design Competition, presented by Metropolis and Business Interiors by Staples. Two generations later, we’re far removed from the everyday possibility of nuclear annihilation. Yet the future appears to be a zero-sum game: The threat of global destruction no longer comes from Soviet missiles, but from the slower intrusion of rising seawater. We’re surrounded by machines that project an aura of helpful muniﬁcence, but whose true impact on our privacy, productivity, and creativity is an open question. We collaborate with coworkers without the coercion of handguns—even as workplace violence is a weekly occurrence.