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Spotlight: Workspace
These ingenious office interiors and products let you take care of business — whether at your desk, in the metaverse or in silent meditation pods.
Shanghai’s WorkX Social is Part Office and Part Community Hub
Shaal modular contract seating collection by Arper
4 Modular Contract Seating Collections Built for Lounging
Installation by HUSH Design Agency at Uber's San Francisco office.
Immersive Light Installations Bring These Tech Offices’ Missions to Life
Work Series Two meeting table by Another Country.
4 Functional — and Beautiful — Tables for Office Gatherings
Andrew Lane and Tessa Bain of Toronto firm Digby, focused on creating metaverse experiences
Exploring the Metaverse’s Impact on the Future of Work
Tulsi screen divider by 3form
4 Stylish Screens That Enable Privacy in the Workplace
Headspace office meditation pod
These Meditation Pods Offer Respite From the Stressors of Office Life
Spotlight: Workspace

Even after more than two years, the threat of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders remains a constant around the globe, and many people continue to contemplate ever returning to physical office spaces. Since commercial building owners arguably have the most to lose from permanent work-from-home, landlords worldwide are brainstorming new services to dissuade tenants from shuffling off their leases. In downtown Shanghai, local real estate developer Shui On Land has devised one such solution, proposing a two-for-one offer — supporting business growth and encouraging strong social connections — that is available not only to office tenants of its recently completed Ruihong Tiandi development but also to area residents.

Hallway at WorkX Social Shanghai

Called WorkX Social, it’s a capacious community hub where disparate businesses can meet clients and network with one another. Located inside the gargantuan complex’s Hall of the Sun podium building, the 1,500-square-metre space was brought to life by international design studio M Moser Associates, a firm well-versed in crafting “workspace environments that bring out the best in people.” Before beginning the design, M Moser strategists first questioned existing occupants about their day-to-day needs and wants. “One of our goals was to help these small companies,” says interior designer and associate of workplace design Jane Choi. What she and the team learned was that these businesses mostly desired a space for mingling.

Green open pantry at WorkX Social
For WorkX Social, M Moser developed a series of different seating plans that support all manner of meeting and work styles. In the main lobby, a dark- green-clad open pantry hints at the well-designed spaces beyond.

A 120-person multi-functional venue within WorkX Social is located just beyond a cylindrical open pantry clad in dark-green tile; it immediately announces that the design team got it right. Collective zones further inside range from conference and game rooms to areas along the building perimeter filled with lounge chairs and banquettes. Library tables and pod seating are hidden furthest away to support focused work. To connect the modern amenity-filled space to both nature and the city’s cultural heritage, Choi et al strategically incorporated hits of biophilia, urban-influenced features and “soft digital” elements.

WorkX Social Shanghai office space

Vegetation is one analog arrow in M Moser’s biophilic quiver, which includes potted and architecturally integrated plants that signal different vignettes and circulation routes, respectively. A palette of wood, stone and sandy tones form the backdrop, while familiar visual references are woven throughout. “The gates and columns of local shikumen homes inform the design language,” says Choi. The fenestration of Shanghai’s pre-Communist Old Millfun slaughterhouse, another recognizable icon, found its way into mesh screens, as well as the destination’s logo wall.

Lobby at WorkX Social Shanghai
Merging technology with nature, a soaring electronic screen in the amenity space’s entryway projects images of a waterfall when it’s not displaying event information.

With reservations maxed out daily in its inaugural months, it seems the welcoming gestures at the hybrid social–work space have indeed had their intended effect.

Seating space at WorkX Social
Shaal modular contract seating collection by Arper
Shaal by Arper
Shaal seating by Arper

A study in duality by London-based studio Doshi Levien, Shaal combines residential comfort with the flexibility of modularity, and a sense of weightlessness with generous volumes. Six core elements can create angular or linear two- or three-seat compositions, each framed in a rigid panel that supports the supple cushions. A range of leathers and textiles is offered for the hard and soft segments; the removable upholstery can be replaced to extend the life of the sofa, and all components are recyclable.

Prescott by Plural Studios
Prescott seating by Plural Studios

Like a well-tailored suit, Prescott can be customized to perfectly fit its surroundings. The modules are built in 76.2-centimetre increments and include armless, right- or left-armed, high-backed (with a built-in shelf) and corner units, as well as ottomans and coffee tables, which can form dynamic linear landscapes. Unifying bands along the bases — with square metal or cylindrical wooden feet — can be left exposed or upholstered in matching fabric for a seamless appearance.

Brig Lounge by Nienkamper
Brig Lounge seating by Nienkamper

Toronto industrial design studio Fig40 devised Brig to offer complete configuration freedom. Revolving around a sleek exposed plywood plinth, its volumes can be arranged into lounge chairs, benches, sofas and more. Two back heights cater to different privacy needs, and tables, planters and shelving can be integrated into the assembly. Power outlets are also available, as are a number of upholstery and finish options.

Ondulé by Karl Andersson & Söner
Ondule seating by Karl Andersson & Soner

Riffing on the undulating form of corrugated facades, Swedish designer Anton Björsing used vertical wood rods to frame the light grey or anthracite felt-upholstered backs and sides of his Ondulé collection. Two back heights are available for the two- and three-seater versions, which can be arranged with a low-back armchair and high-back one-and-a-half-seat settee. The oak or ash wood can be clear lacquered, white glazed or stained in 11 finishes (ash only), while a pop-up table (for the two- and three-seaters) and power outlets enhance the series’s functionality.

Installation by HUSH Design Agency at Uber's San Francisco office.

In the late 1990s, while taking a summer program at the Harvard Graduate School of Design intended to help students refine their ideas and build a strong portfolio before applying to architecture school, David Schwarz had a revelation of sorts: Maybe he didn’t actually want to become an architect after all. Though he still loved buildings, his interests had begun to drift away from the analog aspects of the industry. “By 1999, I had moved to San Francisco, and I got swept away in the digital design revolution,” he says. At the time, tech start-ups were thundering onto the global stage.

Light Forest installation by HUSH Design Agency at Instagram's San Francisco office.
The Light Forest installation at Instagram’s San Francisco office transforms the platform’s community photos and videos into a three-dimensional display.

In late 2006, recognizing parallels between the two worlds, Schwarz and co-founder Erik Karasyk launched HUSH, a Brooklyn-based experience design agency that excels at translating a company’s overall mission into interactive and sensory encounters, then weaving them into a physical form. “Architecture is about many things, the program of a space at the core. At HUSH, we think more about expressing the big idea that is central to an organization’s mission and trying to tell that story inside their setting in bold, inspiring and unconventional ways,” he says. Working at the intersection of three main elements (content, space and technology), the collaborative agency develops custom strategies that clearly and cleanly communicate a client’s ethos and impart a feeling that something about the place — and what goes on there — is special.

Light Forest installation.

With its design for Uber’s recently completed global headquarters in San Francisco, for example, that trifecta resulted in The Stream, a multimodal installation composed of beams of constantly moving and ever-changing lights that stretch from top to bottom and horizontally throughout the multi-level interior. Fed by the company’s local mobility information and worldwide platform data, The Stream can be activated to show- case different displays that engage with employees or visiting guests and for one-off special events.

Installation by HUSH Design Agency at Uber's San Francisco office.
At Uber’s San Francisco headquarters, The Stream translates the company’s message of movement and connection into beams of light that span the multi-level interior.

With roughly 30 team members — from architects, animators, engineers and visual software and content developers to graphic artists, sound and lighting designers, programmers and more — HUSH has an ability to bring these “first-impression moments” to life, contributing richer, more experiential interiors and unique stages that showcase a brand’s identity.

Installation by HUSH Design Agency at Uber's San Francisco office.
Work Series Two meeting table by Another Country.
Hook Up by Three H
Hook Up desking by Three H.

With beautifully simple lines and practical accessories, the Hook Up collection by Toronto design firm MSDS Studio can accommodate all manner of meeting and work types. A universal rail connects tables together and can be fitted with privacy panels, letter trays, storage boxes, planters in different sizes, cupholders and power receptacles — all without the need for tools. The steel frame and legs are offered in nine standard colours (customizing is also an option), and three table heights are available.

Mitis by StudioTK
Mitis meeting table by StudioTK in an office with a bookshelf.

Part of the mid-century-modern-inspired Punt collection, the Mitis table by Barcelona-based designer Mario Ruiz highlights the natural beauty of wood through its sculpted trestle-like legs, sophisticated detailing and substantial surface (a contrasting solid surface option is also available). The rectangular table comes in three heights and widths, making it a suitable addition for both private offices and larger boardrooms.

Comma by Vitra
Comma table by Vitra.

Bringing the functionality of scaffolding to the office, the Comma kit-of-parts system consists of six central elements: base and top frames, horizontal and diagonal beams, shelves and screens. The frame pieces can be snapped together in multiple ways — and multiple times — using the clever “claw” ends of the horizontal beams, no tools or hardware required. Assembled as solo desks or group huddles or even makerspaces, the agile tubular system can also be equipped with tabletops and electrification modules.

Work Series Two by Another Country
Work Series Two meeting table by Another Country.

In a departure for wooden-furniture-maker Another Country, the Work Series Two table features a removable surface made from recycled yogurt containers: the 100 per cent recyclable material has a terrazzo-style look with glimmers of metal from the foil lids. Combined with circular eucalyptus wood legs, the table has a lovely tactile quality that can be further enhanced with cork and natural wool privacy panels.

Andrew Lane and Tessa Bain of Toronto firm Digby, focused on creating metaverse experiences

While many of us may be slowly accepting the mere existence of the metaverse, forward-thinking companies are rushing to harness its potential. They just need to figure out how. That’s Andrew Lane’s job. At Toronto-based firm Digby, Lane and his fellow co-founder Tessa Bain help clients uncover opportunities for authentic metaverse experiences to accelerate retail innovation — utilizing web 3.0 technology, NFTs and the blockchain, as well as delivering sales and business development and other means of support. It’s the next significant evolution of the web and, if applied in a meaningful way, Lane tells Azure, it could influence the future of work.

Utility Won’t Be Universal

How do we create something in the metaverse that’s truly useful? It’s going to be a little bit different for everyone. Sometimes the utility is more about the ability for a company to tell an innovation story, or an opportunity to virtually collaborate in a common place, as an avatar, with people who are in completely different locations. These spaces could be for a sales meeting or for a presentation. There’s opportunity for utility to meet many diverse needs, but there are still many businesses that don’t believe incredibly common technology like email or social media work for them.

Familiarity Will Pave the Way to Adoption

Even if they’re a bit fantastical, many current metaverses are still rooted in recognizable concepts, like gravity. The Zaha Hadid Architects metaverse city [Liberland] is futuristic-looking and stakes an exciting claim in a new space — and feels authentic to its brand. Their renderings leverage the familiar in a similar fashion to science fiction, making it more easily recognized and received by the average user. This familiarity helps people respond to these environments and understand how to use them. The early metaverse designs that create mental comfort will make it easier to bridge the adoption gap for users, which in a lot of ways means that they’re going to look and feel like the real world — a metaverse boardroom might include chairs, for example, not because the avatars have a physical need to sit, but because the chairs create familiarity and make it easier for people to position themselves in the space.

Architects and Designers Have a Role

If people are resisting the metaverse, it could be because early images they’ve seen feel like video games, and the reality is that video games are the most populous metaverses right now. There’s an opportunity for architects and designers to evolve this, to take the thinking they’ve brought to the physical world and apply it to this new space, to show people how a metaverse space can be functional and beautiful. There’s great opportunity for architects and designers to come in and stake initial claims.

New Needs Require New Design Thinking

Ergonomics do not have the same functional relevance in the metaverse as they do in the physical world, but they are critical — these familiar ergonomic forms hold a lot of power in the minds of users of a space, so they will likely continue to have increased relevance, at least in the early days, despite their lack of functionality. A virtual version of your favourite desk chair might be there because it’s mentally comforting when you walk into the room, but not to ensure that your lumbar support is adequate. These are the sorts of things that designers in this space will start to consider. What kind of furnishings do we need when we don’t have the same sorts of constraints caused by our human bodies?

Tulsi screen divider by 3form
Steelcase Flex Personal Spaces
Steelcase Flex Personal Spaces privacy screen

Working together, these curved privacy wraps and specially shaped desks carve out a cocoon-like area for focused work, video calls or quiet conversations. Tufting details on the canopy give it a tailored look, while a portfolio of accessories (hooks, nameplates, integrated lighting, modesty panels, free-standing divider screens and pin-tackable surfaces) allows for diverse office set-ups.

Frame Mobile by Lintex
Frame Mobile office divider screen by Lintex

Refining the basic whiteboard, the double-sided Frame Mobile enfolds its rounded corners in a bentwood casing that outlines the inset magnetic writing surfaces and serves as a handle to easily move the unit. Designed by Christian Halleröd and Matti Klenell, the low-iron glassboard is available in two widths, two frame and base combinations, and 24 standard mood glass colours.

Bonh by Davis Furniture
Bonh planters by Davis Furniture

A sophisticated merging of architecture and nature, the Bonh collection of cascading planters by Stuttgart studio jehs+laub brings the outdoors inside, and can be used — singularly or in groupings — to create flora-filled space dividers. Each comprises three geometric pots supported by slender structural rods, a rigid counterpoint to the plant life that sprouts from them. Two heights are offered, as are more than 30 powder-coated colourways.

Tulsi by 3form
Tulsi office divider screen by 3form

Indigenous Nepalese lokta paper creates the spiral-like motif of the new Tulsi pattern available for 3form’s Varia panels. Handmade by Himalayan artists, the textural material is piped across the screen in unique layers that vary between levels of translucency, taking on the depth of each of the three colourways available — Amber, Pistachio and Obsidian (a transparent option, Pure, is also offered). The panels come in two sizes and five gauges, and can be framed, frameless, suspended and more.

Headspace office meditation pod
Iris by Openseed
Iris office meditation pod by Openseed

A three-part collaboration between meditation-pod-maker OpenSeed, designer Yves Béhar (founder of multidisciplinary studio Fuseproject) and Deepak Chopra, Iris is a successful blend of industrial design, wellness technology and sustainability. The womb-shaped, assembled-on-site capsule features a structure partially made from 3D-printed upcycled saw-dust with 100 per cent natural sound-absorbing felt panels. Intended to “quiet the chatter and help…refocus on our well-being,” the stand-alone micro-environment is equipped with immersive audio for guided meditation, aromatherapy and specially designed LED sequences that are synchronized with the sound aspect, all controlled through an unobtrusive built-in touchscreen. In louder settings, noise-cancelling headphones can be used to help block out external distractions.

Headspace Pod by Headspace
Headspace office meditation pod

Challenged to bring the Headspace meditation app into physical form, San Francisco studio Mike & Maaike responded with a “joyful, inviting and simple piece of furniture” that offers users a secluded spot for reflection. To remove any indicators of or associations with work, the Headspace Pod (which is still in the prototype phase) features built-in directional audio, which requires no headphones, screens or other devices to activate — and the sound is heard only by those inside. Once users have settled into the felt-upholstered hut, a series of 10-minute guided mediations — relax, refresh and focus — are accessed via corresponding and clearly labelled buttons: simply push the button, take a seat on the small bench and begin to calm the mind.