When Knoll recently decided to reinvent its modular office furniture line they hired architects Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture of New York’s Asymptote Architecture to reinvent the cubicle to make it more tolerable for workers without eliminating the aspects that make it beloved by facilities managers. Rashid and Couture visited with office workers in a variety of industries and met with office managers, CEO’s, designers and fellow architects. They found that many companies view facilities as tools for recruiting and keeping talent. Two years and millions of dollars later Knoll unveiled 10 prototypes of the system, tentatively titles “A3,” at the June, 2001, Chicago NeoCon furniture show.

To reshape the box, Rashid and Couture looked outside it, particularly to sporting equipment and how it molds the body in space, and to the airline interiors, which recreate a “womb-like sense of comfort.” A3’s distinctive design elements include curving, mesh-like ovoid scrims that envelop each workstation and clip to powder-coated steel frames. Areas are delineated with rubber floor mats, with power poles feeding voice, data and power lines. Within this tenting curving work surfaces mold around the body to make an enclosed space. Storage elements include overhead bins and rolling file cabinets of lightweight molded plastic. A variety of accessories to personalize the workspace are engineered to fasten onto the frame of each unit.

Recognizing that you can never remove 100% of office sound, the A3 attempts rather to modify behavior by letting workers see others are there, even if only through a shadowy veil. Being structurally self-sufficient, the workstations can be arranged independently from the walls of adjoining units; they can be private back-to-back units or clustered into shared work areas. The author claims the A3 promises to change not only the look of the workplace but also the behavior of the workforce.

Source: Raul A. Barreneche, Architecture, July 2001

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