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An Office The Size Of A City: Googleplex Designer’s Latest Zany Idea

Clive Wilkinson imagines one way to solve London’s commuting problem: a single-level, open-plan office in the sky.

Clive Wilkinson, the designer of the original Googleplex, knows a thing or two about designing offices. And he thinks they’re pretty wasteful. His satirical alternative? An endless, single-level workspace in the clouds that hovers above cities, sucking us up from our living rooms via pneumatic tubes and depositing us in an airy, open office right above us. The Endless Workplace proposal might be tongue-in-cheek, but it makes some good points about what’s wrong with offices today, and the future of working.

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The Endless Workplace was designed for Flaunt Magazine‘s latest issue. The magazine asked designers to think about what would happen if the cultures of California and the United Kingdom suddenly collided. “They have such different ways of seeing the world,” Wilkinson says. As a result, he imagined what it would be like if London, where the average commute is two or more hours a day, embraced Silicon Valley’s Slack and Skype-driven, work-from-anywhere mentality.

In Wilkinson’s concept, London would effectively gain a second level, devoted entirely to open-plan co-working spaces. “It utilizes the scenographic beauty of London, where this workspace blankets the whole city, but opens up everywhere there’s an interesting site or a tourist attraction,” Wilkinson says. The concept leverages mobile working and internet connectivity so that people can work no matter where they are, just by traveling up into the clouds above their house or flat.

Although Wilkinson is the first to admit that such an Endless Workplace isn’t exactly a serious plan, he does argue it solves some very real problems. The most obvious issue is the endless commutes that most workers face in today’s densely packed cities: instead of commuting, they’d just zoom up into the clouds for the work day. Such a solution would also reduce CO2 emissions and the need for physical space that companies have now.

“There’s a statistic that has been reliably used for years, that says that at any given time, that 50% of any workspace is just empty desks,” Wilkinson says. By creating a single, cloud-like layer of desks above a city, you can get away with fewer desks than the corresponding number you’d find in individual office buildings.

But why conceptualize something like this at all, when working from home similarly cuts commutes? “It gets down to the tribalistic nature of people,” Wilkinson says. Like a good co-working space, the Endless Workplace would create entrepreneurial communities in the clouds, where different people working elbow-to-elbow could inspire each other, merge ideas, and create new companies: a cross-pollination culture that could end 9 to 5 drudgery once and for all.