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From Herman Miller, A Slender Table That’s A High-Powered Workstation

The modern conference table is a massive, hulking beast. But it doesn’t have to be.

Our computers have grown exponentially sleeker and thinner over the last decade. But the surfaces we work on have responded to the challenge of accommodating devices by getting bulkier and heavier. Herman Miller’s AGL Group, designed by Leon Ransmeier, takes a refreshingly different approach, using as little material as possible to build a slender yet strong structure that conceals unsightly wires.

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Ransmeier says that he was inspired by the material efficiency of aircraft design, supporting the activities of users without muddling the form with fussy detailing. The result is a sturdy wing of a table, with subtly tapered edges. Extruded aluminum posts provide channels for wiring, which can be easily fitted inside without tools or cover panels. Underneath the table, slender trays hold four simplex outlets and enough space for cords, transformers, or the tablet computers of two people seated on either side. “The AGL power delivery system was designed around use–both socially and ergonomically,” Ransmeier tells Co.Design. “[It] was designed to enable creative collaboration rather than detached competition,” resulting in a long and slightly narrower width than standard tables of its size.

But the New York designer didn’t arrive at that look right away: “I was approaching the form of the components in what could be described as a geometrically ‘rationalist’ manner, which worked for a while. It was only once we built a large prototype that it immediately became obvious that my ‘rationality’ had been foolhardy–in addition to clearance issues in several places, a notable figure at Herman Miller asked if the proportion of the extrusions didn’t remind me of 2x4s.” It was then that he took a more sculptural approach, drawing inspiration from Charles Eames’s insight into designing with aluminum:

When you’ve committed yourself to [aluminum] casting, you’ve committed yourself to a plastic material and the kind of freedom that can really give you the willies. At that moment you find yourself face to face with sculpture, and it can scare the pants off you.

In the end, Ransmeier conquered the fear, producing a desk that is a model of sophistication and restraint. The table will be available for order from Herman Miller in early 2013 and come two versions (powered or unpowered) and eight sizes, the smallest of which (42 by 85 inches) can be used as an executive desk or dining surface; the largest, at more than 18 feet, can seat up to 16 people. Go for more details.

About the author

Belinda Lanks is the editorial director of Co.Design. Before joining FastCompany.com, she was the managing editor of Metropolis.

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