Basket office furnishing system, 2004

Herman Miller, Inc.

Location: Zeeland, Michigan
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For over eighty years, Herman Miller, Inc., has designed and manufactured innovative furniture systems for work environments of all kinds. Today, the company’s design and development team is rethinking the office in response to changes in how we work. In many industries, employees are increasingly unmoored from any fixed physical place, connected wirelessly to a world of mobile data and tools. The challenge for office planners is to create flexible, stimulating spaces that are an attractive destination for employees who can choose when and where they work. The dismal cubes satirized by Scott Adams’s infamous Dilbert cartoon enforce a paradoxical mix of isolation and exposure, not unlike a modern prison cell: keep people in one place, and make sure they are always visible.

Herman Miller’s New Office Landscape rethinks office planning within an economical open-floor plate. Borrowing ideas from New Urbanism, an urban design movement that burst onto the scene in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the New Office Landscape combines individual office spaces with more spacious shared areas—just as New Urbanist housing developments offer a greater density of homes along with public amenities such as parks, stores, and restaurants.

The Basket is a group-seating area with a woven wall that provides both privacy and permeability. The Rolling Tent feels as stable as a constructed conference room, yet as light and open as an informal community area. The rolling screens provide adjustable levels of privacy, while a fixed back wall allows integration of technologies. Unlike a traditional conference room, these systems are designed for spontaneous meetings, offering an inviting landing place for brief or extended conversations. Such works of “soft architecture” are envisioned within organic clusters of individual workspaces that break the grid of the old cubicle landscape.

Collaboration spawns creativity. Examples of people enjoying work in public and semi-public places are all around us. The design team at Herman Miller observes, “The kind of anonymity found in plain sight at Starbucks, the kind of variable stimulation found in libraries and public plazas—these are the new qualities to be fought for in work environments.” As people become more connected, and thus more mobile, the office will increasingly become a place to meet, network, and share ideas—a social space.