By now, the concept of "spontaneous collaboration space" in the office is starting to fray around the edges. Despite the proliferation of zany themed meeting rooms, sofas, and bars in the workplace, there’s still no recipe for engineering the random encounters and unplanned work that can lead to breakthroughs. "Architects will often specify residential furniture like coffee tables and couches," says Sigi Moeslinger, one half of Antenna Design. "But spontaneous work still requires work space."
Moeslinger and her partner, Masamichi Udagawa, have designed Bloomberg terminals, MTA New York City subway cars, and JetBlue check-in kiosks. But for their latest project, the Japanese-Austrian duo bypassed screens and addressed the people who use them. Activity Spaces, a line of furniture Antenna designed for Knoll, is designed for mobile employees who are no longer tied to a desktop, relying on tablets or phones instead. "Many people don’t have a main computer anymore," says Udagawa. "But generally, we still need a place to sit and put something."
Activity Spaces is built around a desk/chair hybrid named Toboggan. The steel tube and bent plywood contraption looks like a mutated public school desk—its legs wrap in a C from the desk to the ground up to the integrated stool, creating a lightweight structure that supports a variety of sitting positions plus a place to rest a tablet or notebook. "It’s a kind of strange object, and we weren’t sure how people would interact with it" says Moeslinger. But an introduction at NeoCon last year left Antenna pleasantly surprised: "People would just intuitively take breaks to check their phones," she remembers. "They got into it right away."
The lightweight Toboggans are designed to be moved and rearranged throughout the office, which introduced another problem: the inevitable lack of power outlets. So they designed a stainless steel pole dotted with outlets that supplies a charge wherever it’s wheeled. Other pieces, like a rolling whiteboard and small tables that also provide a charge for laptops, also promote mobility within the office. The idea is to create a spectrum of spaces within the office, rather than the conventional binary of being at your desk or in a meeting.
In an unexpected way, Antenna’s expertise in interaction design is what makes these plywood-and-plastic objects so intelligent. It’s not so much about the screen, but rather how and where it’s being used. "We approach furniture as an interface," Udagawa told me. "It can modify behavior, and help people make the transition into more open space."