How NYC’s Subway Designers Are Making Offices That Foster Creative Collaboration

Working for Knoll, Antenna is creating an office system that tries to balance the competing demands of privacy and collaboration.

Don’t like the way your cubicle-mate’s breath smells? Too bad. A combination of shrinking budgets and a general shift in workplace ethos has led to the rise of the collaborative work environment–a place where people sit at long tables, connected desks, and couches instead of cordoned-off cubes. Knoll’s Antenna Workspaces, a line of office furniture that invites collaboration, aims to make it easier for companies to keep workspaces open, while still offering employees a modicum of privacy.


The Workspaces, which are the brainchild of Antenna Design principals Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger, sprang from research conducted by Knoll showing that individual workstations aren’t the centerpieces of the workspace as much as they once were. Instead, employees shift between three primary work modes throughout the day: individual “focus” mode, the “share” casual idea exchange mode, and “team” mode. Antenna Workspaces wants to be flexible enough to accommodate all three work styles.

The Antenna Workspaces line has been around since 2010, but Knoll introduced a new range of mobile tables and desks for both open plan and private offices this month. The tables and desks feature fixed power poles, power cubes, and totem tables, but the power cylinders and table tops can be moved around to suit office needs.

The heart of Antenna Workspaces is the table, which features a top placed on a base made out of two steel legs, with a pair of tubular rails between them that are linked together by cast aluminum cradles. “It’s less about being furniture and more about what people do in the office,” according to Benjamin Pardo, Executive Vice President and Design Director at Knoll. So the furniture line’s linked desks, for example, can fit together side-by-side, in an L shape, or in a U shape. Storage cabinets fit both above and below the desk top. The Antenna Fence, a freestanding spine that creates boundaries between spaces, provides power and data cables.

“People are seeking privacy in public spaces, within this environment,” explains Tracy Wymer, Knoll Vice President of Workplace Strategy. Ditching the cabinets and power components altogether turns the desks back into simple tables, for times when privacy isn’t necessary. Antenna Workspaces’ big table can be similarly configured in any number of ways–the center beam can support storage cabinets, cantilevered shelves, power components, and more.

This isn’t for every workplace. A fast-growing tech startup with a collaborative culture might love the idea, but it’s not ideal for more conservative environments. “Lawyers still like to have status based on a perimeter, private offices, and an assistant outside,” says Pardo. But overall, he says, there is something of a generational shift going on: “People moving into the workforce today don’t necessarily have the same expectation of a big mahogany desk.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.