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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The space-age hang-ups, ambitions, and terrors embodied by the Titan silo may be extreme, but they are instructive: How do we collaborate successfully in a shrinking space, ﬁlled with needy machines, without melting the planet?
Left, Floor Plan: 1 Central elevator core 2 Private conference area 3 Group modular office 4 Open work area 5 Active work table 6 Grove seating 7 Communal garden stairs Right, Ceiling Plan: 1 Central elevator core 2 Stairs 3 Bathroom and kitchens 4 Light-modulating fiber-optic ceiling 5 Skylights
Courtesy Joseph Filippelli
For nearly a decade now, the most prominent answer has been: Don’t even try. The future of the workplace has been popularly imagined in terms of its absence. As the argument goes, the ﬁxed space of the cubicle and conference room have been superseded by the needs of extremely mobile workers, ﬂoating between home, cafe, and ﬂexible coworking spaces. That reality has even seeped into the vocabulary: We now talk about the “workplace” where once we said “ofﬁce” or “studio,” in a nod to the reality of work happening anywhere. That’s freeing in some ways—especially for the budgets of corporate real-estate groups. But it can also seem like an admission of defeat. I once met with an engineer at a Fortune 100 company (a one-time icon of industrial design) at the rickety table of a pizza joint, when all the conference rooms at their gleaming headquarters upstairs were occupied. It sometimes seems like we have mobilized our working spaces into the gutter. The challenge today is not only to create a workplace that’s happy and productive, but to make it efﬁcient enough to justify its own existence.
1 Rainwater to basin 2 Ventable mullion system 3 Phase-change curtain wall, with photovoltaic panels embedded in glass 4 Solar-powered fiber-optic ceiling 5 Radiant cooling in ceiling 6 Radiant heating in floors 7 Gray water filtration system and high-efficiency boiler 8 Hydroponic watering system 9 Thermally active furniture
Courtesy Joseph Filippelli
Not surprisingly, this question of mobility was the elephant in the room for the majority of entrants in the Workplace of the Future Design Competition. “What the applicants were trying to solve was, ‘How do you create some kind of a container for this mobility that’s a paradigm for place—even when you’re wireless and in the cloud?’” says jury member Tom Krizmanic, a principal at STUDIOS Architecture in New York, and the architect of a workplace icon of the last decade: the Bloomberg LP headquarters in New York City. “Work can happen anywhere, so when it does, you’re still going to be in a place. What should that place look like?”
In addition to Krizmanic, the jury included Jonas Damon, creative director at Frog Design; Paul Darrah, head of corporate real estate at Bridgewater Associates; Nona Gross, a workplace strategy and design specialist at Siemens Corporation; and John Michael, vice president and general manager at Business Interiors by Staples. Their choice for the project that best embodied that future was Vertical Flux. Designed by Joseph Filippelli, a recent graduate of the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning at the University of Michigan, the environment sidesteps the challenge of extreme mobility by focusing on “extreme variability.” He takes the enduring necessity of the workplace at face value, but then eliminates nearly every other stricture.