Swiss Army room

Adapting our work environment to do more for us

Often I find myself frustrated that the physical space I work in can’t respond to my every design whim.  Why can’t one space do everything? Why shouldn’t I have an endless amount of writing and pin-up surface available as well as access to interactive displays, video chat and screen share? Why do I have to cart my design work around from room to room? I won’t pretend these are reasonable demands, but the question remains. Design is becoming a more technically interactive and instant process. Designers want to meet and revise on the fly in real-time and if possible, in the same room.

Today, productive design demands a technology-rich environment that is more collaborative than a single work station and less formal than a conference room. We at VOA Chicago are taking a serious look at how our environment can work harder for us and complement our design process. Our goal is to make our teaming areas open, informal, and collaborative, while still providing a technical infrastructure and the tools we need to be productive.


In collaboration with Steelcase, we’ve undertaken an experimental effort to create this ideal teaming area. It will accommodate our active work style, meetings and client interactions. Steelcase provided VOA Chicago with a media:scape unit (pictured above) and our workplace design team has actively used it for the past few months. Steelcase describes this digital display product as a “walk-up and connect” experience. Connected users can share what’s on their laptop or handheld devices simply by pressing a button. It supports video-conferencing and allows teams to work and display content in close proximity.

The media:scape has transformed our teaming area, which is currently oriented toward the design of a major tech company’s new Chicago workplace. Media:scape has allowed our teaming areas to be more dynamic. Previously outfitted with cluttered drawing/model building tables and walls covered with pin up board, it is now a space where we can collaboratively edit Revit models in real time, fly through Sketchup models and even hold client meetings with digital presentations. Having the client join us in the design area and making them part of that fully immersive environment has been a huge win. Compared to a formal presentation in a conference room, requiring set up and take down time, a meeting in the space now feels flexible and energized.

There’s something dynamic, exciting and more collaborative about sharing our design progress with clients in the space where the work actually happens.

Some clients, it turns out, even think our “messy” work spaces are ‘cool’!

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