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At MoMA Design Store, A Glimpse At The Work-Free Future Of Work

The Design Store’s latest catalog suggests a world of all play–and no work.

For a snapshot of the future, look to the MoMA Design Store. As the official shop of MoMA–the first museum in the U.S. to establish a Design and Architecture department, back in 1932–it’s both a retail companion to the museum’s canonical holdings, as well as a showcase for the best new and innovative designs curated from around the world.

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The latest from its current spring catalog? A spread of items for a workspace that looks more like a playhouse—albeit, a very stylish one. Ranging from deluxe desk tchotchkes to miniature toys, the selection gives a glimpse of what the future of work might be: all play, no work.

[Photo: courtesy MoMA Design Store]

Among the items categorized under Workspaces: a handsome chess set by designers Ian Flood and Chris Prosser, with double-weighted acrylic pieces the shape of buildings from New York’s skyline. An updated take on the chrome-ball pendulum, a common desktop tchotchke; an analog flip-clock, a retro throwback that’s come back into vogue.

[Photo: courtesy MoMA Design Store]

All seem like fairly feasible accoutrements for the conventional office, but turn the page and the selections get a bit funkier: a stick-figure shaped lamp and plastic iterations of Eames elephants, items more commonly seen in nurseries. A miniature wooden bowling set, recommended for ages five and older. A colorful Bauhaus block set, made for ages three and older; and a miniature wooden pinball machine, for users age 13 and over.

Tellingly, the sizable 10-page offering of Workspace items is sandwiched between the Tech and Kids sections. Is it a nod to the perpetual adolescence of startup culture? Has the working professional gotten a whole lot younger, or only in spirit?

“Workspaces is one category that’s been evolving a lot, obviously because people work very differently from the way they used to in the past,” says Emmanuel Plat, MoMA’s director of merchandising and retail. “Spaces are more nomadic, and traditional frontiers are kind of blurring, so you see that in the kind of products we share—they’re portable and playful.”

It formalizes the convergence of work and play that we’ve seen shape the face of the 21st-century office. From the open-plan office, to coworking spaces, maker studios, tech startups-as-playgrounds, and home offices; “paradigm-shifting” tropes are now the new norm. And for good reason. Play is a known productivity booster. It’s also a corporate tactic used to keep employees working longer and harder at the office and at home—because if it’s fun, it can’t possibly be work. And not only has work gotten a lot less work-like in recent years, as some have argued, it points to the radical future of a world that may exist without jobs altogether, displaced by the effects of automation and environmental collapse.

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Whether deliberately or not, MoMA Design Store innocently conjures an image of this post-work future where all we do is play all day. Until universal basic income becomes a reality, find me at my desk, tackling my workload with a fidget spinner in hand.

[Photo: courtesy MoMA Design Store]
[Photo: courtesy MoMA Design Store]
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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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