Winner of Tomorrow’s Workplace Proposes Working Alongside Your Elders

The winning proposals for Tomorrow's Workplace Design Competition provocatively look to broaden the communities that workplaces serve.

Co-Gen Flex Space envisions a co-working complex that considers how “young entrepreneurial professionals and freelancers may interface with a growing active community of seniors in a co-generational environment.”

Courtesy Ethelind Coblin.

The workplace is changing. An increase in the freelance workforce and the ever extending age of retirement—owed in large part to the transformative power of technology and shifting demographics—make it clear that even five years from now completely new models for collaboration, productivity, and sustainability are likely to emerge in our workplaces.

These were some of the themes addressed in the Tomorrow’s Workplace Design Competition, presented by Metropolis and Staples Business Advantage. In this third iteration, participants were asked to speculate: what will the workplace of 2021 be like?

The winning proposal by Ethelind Coblin Architect was inspired by “naturally occurring retirement communities” (NORCs): enclaves that gradually develop into buildings or neighborhoods largely populated by independent retirees. They propose a kind of Co-op where people across generations can work individually in the same highly adaptable environment.

Their proposal, Co-Gen Flex Space, embraces universal design principles—easy access, services and amenities, acoustic and visual orientation strategies, legible spatial hierarchies—just as it fosters interaction between diverse users with different experiences and knowledge bases.

Daylit co-working spaces cater to a diversity of activity, from plug-and-play workstations to low-tech individual and group areas to private meeting rooms.

Courtesy Ethelind Coblin

According to the architects, individualized work environments can minimize the social and professional encounters that often create inspiring work places. “Taking into consideration that there is also a growing number of seniors that are not simply retiring but that choose to (or have to) participate in an active social and work life,” the architects explain, “a co-generational work environment can bridge different social needs and knowledge gaps.”

A courtyard combines outdoor co-working spaces with daycare.

Courtesy Ethelind Coblin

The proposal features work spaces of varying privacy and size, equipped with plug-and-play monitors and keyboards. Workers would also have access to technical services and hardware available for use on demand—3D printing, storage, conferencing technology, and software programs to name a few.

A protected day-care / play area is available to the broader community and is funded by the Coop as well as by members of the co-working space.

Courtesy Ethelind Coblin

Reflecting a move towards work-life integration, Co-Gen Flex Space includes a courtyard, cafe, food court, and a parking space for up to three food trucks. These amenities would expand the reach of the Co-op into its proposed neighborhood of Chelsea in New York City. In addition, a daycare facility, accessible to working families and residents of the surrounding area, would be funded by the Coop as well as by members of the co-working space.

Courtesy Ethelind Coblin

Further elaborating on the flexible, collaborative workplace is a near-future oriented proposal by the runner-up Jie Zhang of Opt Studio. Dubbed FoAM, the concept comprises a series of inflatable mobile offices that function within a network of urban parks. The offices are easy to carry and quick to set up, even though they are equipped with thermal and acoustic insulation. Their collapsible walls can also act as projection screens.

“Inspired by inflatable architecture from 1960s, FoAM is a combination of mobile offices as easily deployable inflatables, and a dense network of urban parks transformed from parking infrastructure to empower tomorrow’s freelancing workforce,” explains Zhang in her statement.

Courtesy Jie Zhang

FoAM proposes new scenarios for work in the city, empowered by the growing freelance economy. “It is impossible for architects and designers to ignore the needs of 30% or more of the US workforce who are freelancing, and deny the changing nature of work as the number grows,” Zhang says. “It presents tremendous opportunities, but also a challenge for us to think beyond the conventional client-designer model for office designs, and engage with the design of processes, tools and environments at a personal scale.”

For Zhang, “FoAM also intends to unleash the latent value in vacant city infrastructure. Instead of constructing new office buildings, adaptation of existing parking structures into urban parks can be fast and cost-effective.”

Courtesy Jie Zhang

The proposal utilizes the disused parking spaces of tomorrow’s landscape, which, as Zhang speculates, will become obsolete with the widespread use of shared autonomous vehicles. Zhang’s vision shows how old lots might become natural respites where a new generation of workers would be able to set up temporary shop. FoAM embraces the agility freelancers have while still retaining some benefits of stable work spaces: privacy, a controlled environment, and sociality.

An eco-system of inflatables allows users to customize the portable office to their needs and types of activity.

Courtesy Jie Zhang

These proposals address themes that resonated throughout many of this year’s submissions—honorable mentions include Jin Young Soung and Andre Koudlai’s proposal, PAMO, to repurpose post-industrial warehouses, and Joseline Delgado Torres’ YUKA, which, like Co-Gen Flex Space, focuses on cross-generational use of offices. What emerges from the third iteration of Tomorrow’s Workplace Design Competition is that—even as technology enables ever-more individualized labor—there is yet a push for physical collaborative and social settings.

This announcement concludes this blog’s coverage of Tomorrow’s Workplace Design Competition, presented in partnership with Staples Business Advantage. We would like to congratulate the winners and to extend our recognition to the honorable mentions. Their names and full design submissions are listed below.

     Ethelind Coblin ArchitectsCoGen Flex Space
Runner Up:
     Jie Zhang, Opt StudioFoAM
Honorable Mentions:
    Jin Young Song; Dioinno ArchitecturePAMO
    Joseline Delgado Torres; Academy of Art University – Yuka / a Japanese inspired communal area
    Dietmar Koering, Simon Becker and Duane Harry; ArphenotypePhase Space and the Technobody
    Honghao Deng, Poseidon Ho, Luis Alonso, James Li, Juan Angulo; Changing Places / MIT Media LabAmoetecture
    Karen Kentile and Amber GreendayDesign Sense
    Mary Tolosa; Academy of Art University – Lapsi
    Aaron Wong; Studio StateThe Workplace Educational Hub
    Chienhan Hung; Academy of Art University – Cube
    Christian Wilke; Ciffen Design and ArchitectureOFC SPC

Categories: Sponsored, Workplace Architecture