Gavin and I were recently guests of Steelcase on a study tour to the USA. Along with representatives from CBRE and Mirvac we visited San Francisco, Palo Alto and Chicago to explore the latest global thinking in workplace design. While much of US workplace architecture is very conservative this tour visited innovative workplaces and leaders in design thinking as well as Steelcase’s corporate headquarters in Grand Rapids.
A highlight of the tour in California was a visit to d.school at Stanford University. The d.school is a hub for innovation at Stanford where students and faculty in engineering, medicine, business, law, the humanities, sciences, and education are taught a process (design thinking) for producing creative solutions to even the most complex challenges. Some of the companies that were founded by graduates from Stanford University include Hewlett-Packard, Google, Yahoo, PayPal, Instagram, Sun Microsystems, LinkedIn, Nike, Gap and Netflix.
The role of physical space in supporting work is currently being debated strongly in San Francisco; the Bay Area region leads the world in the technology that enables working from anywhere, so the question “why go to a physical place to work?” is hotly contested. Companies including Apple, Google and Facebook are spending billions of dollars to create iconic creative campuses in Silicon Valley (about an hour by bus from San Francisco) by renowned architects including Norman Foster and Frank Gehry in order to attract people. At the same time Salesforce and Linked In are creating new workplaces in downtown San Francisco to compete for staff. In my humble opinion, no matter how good the architecture in Silicon Valley is it will lose out to the vitality and life of the city as a place that attracts people.
Workspring in downtown Chicago was another highlight showing how flexible shared workplaces of the future may work. Workspring supports its members with a variety of spaces and technology and also provides overflow or meeting spaces for other tenants in the building thus allowing them to reduce the amount of space they lease for their core premises.
As a beautiful respite from the serious focus on the future of workplace we visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Meyer May House, built in 1908. This house has been meticulously restored by Steelcase and is one of the best examples of Lloyd Wright’s early Prairie Houses. It was a privilege to explore this masterpiece in detail as well as enjoy a formal breakfast in the iconic environment.
The Integration of technology into the workplace to enable work has been a focus of Steelcase’s product development for many years. On this tour we gained some valuable insights into the potential being realized with current applications of furniture and technology, as well as an understanding of some interesting future directions such as the new ‘vertical intelligent architecture’ (VIA) product. This product creates intelligent rooms designed to augment human interaction through the use of technology and acoustics.
The study tour was a fantastic opportunity to see first-hand the trends and ideas that are shaping our future workplace, and we will be sharing some of this information in futurespace’s Spring Breakfast Series of talks.