Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Some NEOCON 2010 Highlights

Experiencing NEOCON 2010 World Trade Fair is like no other. With its size you can only see a small portion of the showrooms, attend a smattering of educational seminars and industry events in any one year. It’s been a few weeks since I went and I am only now realizing its impact. The spirit of invention and purposeful design sprinkled with the infectious energy of innovators in design thinking and services struck me most strongly. There was an upbeat mood as well with many whom I met saying business was not as bad as last year, one of the worst of a generation. A quiet determined optimism pervaded NEOCON.

Fostering collaboration and creating high performance high value workspaces is a reoccurring theme today. This year really energized me with its emphasis on open shared informal workplace furnishings and equipment. Smart European themed compact, low, horizontal / linear workstations with open collegiality were the norm. 120 degree stations were noticeably absent as were panels of any kind. Hard, reflective surfaces with metals and woods combined with white melamine reigned in many showrooms. I was really jazzed by KI’s showroom for its creative installation of a wide variety of workspace strategies. There were open cafĂ© like areas adjacent to workstations with great access to nearby fully enclosed conference and task specific rooms. It was an unexpected find but very creatively executed. It would be one of the showrooms I would take a client to help them visualize various workplace configurations.

The Steelcase, Herman Miller and Knoll Showrooms were compelling with gradations of workplace solutions on display in mocked up variations as well. I met there with Dan Chong who directs Steelcase's collaboration with the A&D community and others.  I also had the oppourtunity to see WorkSpring a collaboration / meeting space laboratory a few blocks away from the Mart.  I'll write about that in a later post.  I especially enjoyed Steelcase’s HD video conferencing solution with one installation in a more straight ahead office environment combined with it’s Mediascape solution linked with a nearby more informal lounge like meeting space also using the Mediascape product. Steelcase also rolled out a new school chair called Node which looked a cross between metal bar stool resting a on a round shelf on wheels. It reminded me of a cross-trainer shoe for the classroom and that’s a deep compliment. Evidently the chair was borne of a research driven effort examining how students actually interacted in classrooms and used their chairs. 

Students moved around organically in their chair with their backpacks scattered on floors. This chair provides a place to store bags and backpacks below the seat and its wheels promote casual interactions and shifting collaborations. It is a little unusual looking though. I have to wonder whether this innovation will lead to further offspring in the coming years.

Herman Miller had markable screens surrounding their spirited “Ball Chairs” which reinforced the collaborative theme. Their Conivia energy and workplace management system also seems to have been more fully integrated into a desktop monitoring solution making it easy from a user’s perspective to control their workspace. Like Steelcase and KI, Herman Miller also had a full range of open to closed workspaces to tour. Their showroom ceiling was especially inspiring with it’s organic curving open ceiling system which created a really light and luminous visual effect. I was able to meet with Paul Murray their Director of Environmental Health and Safety. He shared with me Herman Miller’s recent action and commitment to get to zero over the next ten years. Zero hazardous waste generation. Zero VOC emissions in the air. Zero process water emission by 2020. They also had a very helpful visualizing tool, really a video which showed how the same furniture could be recombined and configured in multiple workspace configurations. This plainly helped make the case for the value of systems furniture as a long term investment with lots of future flexibility, all depending on the creativity of the users and their designers ability to react to changing workspace demands. I also met with a director of their affiliate Systems Furniture refurbishing program called ReVest as part of that conversation, giving second and third lives Herman Miller Systems, mainly to non-profits. It was a great story.

Any survey of NEOCON is inherently incomplete which is why it’s helpful to return another year for more.  In later posts I'll write about a few of the seminars I attended and speakers I met.  The quest for cultivating design continues!

Note: Node chair image courtesy of Steelcase Inc.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

NEOCON 2010 - "Harder Working Spaces"

"Harder Working Spaces" to paraphrase from the 360 Magazine handed out at this year's annual NEOCON World Trade Fair, held at the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago, June 14-16, aptly sums up the vibe of this year's event.  People I meet here speak of last year as one of the worst in recent memory for the contract furnishings industry modeling much of what the greater A&D community experienced as well.  
With the belt tightening contractions of the last two years, therefinally seems to be a slight economic uptick, more like a steadily growing heart beat now.  The word on the trade show floor is one of cautious calculated optimism.  
At the front of Steelcase's introduction to its 2010 offerings in the 360 magazine it identifies what we already know organizations are working harder today doing more with less resources, employees working longer hours and wearing many different kinds of hats. "The agile organization must be both lean and creative."  (paraphrased) With a renewed emphasis on workplace flexibility and adaptability.  We must provide building and interior design solutions which work harder than ever for our clients and deliver value to them both in the short and long term.  Doing more with less.

Steelcase won one of two silver awards for the Best of NEOCON products 2010 with it's new FlexFrame™ workwall in the Files & Storage category which aligns with the harder working workspace theme.  

I saw FlexFrame in their showroom.  It has sleek lines and is really a wall hung tasking and storage solution for the downsized offices that is the norm today.  It has novel frame based wall system with integrated cantilvered work surfaces and very flexible, nearly invisible file and box storage below the task area.   It helps to maximize small office spaces by neatly organizing essential functions along one wall.  It has strong horizontal lines and a simple straightforward appearance.

It's just one example of many innovative task area officing solutions you can see here which align with the "Harder Working Spaces" more with less.  Ideas like this support the drive to high performing workplaces which help maximize all of the resources available to the energized learning organization.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Importance of Green Buildings and LEED

I'm inspired by how far the Green Building movement has come over the last 20 years, and yet I know how much further we have to go in furthering substantial and lasting change in our behaviors and our built environment. Practically all of the commercial and institutional buildings I've worked on at Maclay Architects are working with the LEED standards systems and for the most part going through with certification at inspiringly high levels.

But we've also come to see LEED not as the end point, but the means to a better more effective end (or is it just the beginning?) for us all, in terms of using our building sites better, managing their water and energy use and taking care to use healthy and durable materials in their construction while creating a superlative interior environment. The sum is indeed greater than the parts!

*This post references Maclay Architects, which I am involved with in a professional capacity.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

(Slow) Green

Awareness of our actions and consequences
We are awakening at last
Reading and seeing catastrophic oily substances surrounds us on the news
Chocking shorelines, habitats, livelihoods and communities
Illuminating our dependence upon oil and other fossil fuels
Revealing tragic vulnerabilities
Intensifying resolve to change behaviors
To finally make a difference
Stemming from another time and place
A different set of rules and natural patterns
No longer valid or reliable
Instead a changed world behaves unexpectedly

The idea of growth for growth's sake so anachronistic
Replaced by the need to think smaller, leaner and self-sufficient
Embracing a changed natural world
A difficult sickened place needing productive cultivation
A multi-generational effort awaits, so daunting
Achievable if together we set one foot in front of another
Beginning on the slow journey to a sustainable future

No longer just a few, but now a motivated many.

Spirals Break Away

Wandering currents swirling
Caressing solids granite masses
Intertwining together in chilly and warm sensation
Burbling patter rhythmically appealing
Lulling sounds of watery delight
Blending with clicking cicadas and cawing crows
Loamy soil wafting hints of wildflowers
Slippery stones with mossy overgrowth tickle my chilly toes
Cool undercurrent relieving my ankles

Strong summery sun warming my forehead
Rivulets of water running down my brow
Riverside boulders and brush sharply cut by shadows
Reflecting in the shimmering, glassy surface
An alter ego completing its opposite
Together both create the whole
Unifying them into a singular presence

A fleeting glimpse of perfection