Sit Tech design studio imagines the future of work

By Mark Shepard

Published August 13, 2018

What  futures  might  we  imagine  for  the  workplace?  This  question  drove  the  research  of the  Situated  Technologies  Graduate  Design  Studio, taught by Mark Shepard, associate professor of architecture and media study at UB.

Mark Shepard directed "Future of Work," a design studio taught within the Situated Technologies Graduate Research Group.

Mark Shepard directed "Future of Work," a design studio taught within the Situated Technologies Graduate Research Group.

As the way we work changes, so do the spatial, social, organizational and technological conditions for where work takes place. With workforces becoming more fluid–increasingly composed of contract and temporary workers–workplaces in turn need to become more agile, flexible, adaptable. At the same time, with the rise of the “gig economy” and the “side hustle,” work becomes more something one does than a place to which one commutes. Workers today are deciding where and how they want to work, and the spaces consumed for work are increasingly distributed across public and private domains. Still, along with the proliferation of technologies enabling remote work and networked collaboration, we see a corollary rise in the desire for physical spaces for face-to-face meeting and team work, where amenities for individual health and wellness are prioritized. How do these forces influence how we reconceive the design of the workplace?

The studio explored the future of the workplace through the creation of a series of design fictions that speculated on the relations between work, space and technology in the year 2043. The site for the studio’s projects was Hudson Yards in New York City. Hudson Yards is the largest private real estate development in the United States. When completed, this $20-billion project will span seven city blocks on the west side of Manhattan, incorporate more than 18 million square feet of commercial and residential space, including 100 retail shops, 4000 residences, and 14 acres of parks and public plazas.

The studio travelled to New York City for a week of site visits to contemporary examples of co-working and other workplaces, and meetings with specialists from architectural design, workplace strategy, real estate, and technology firms. Projects produced by the studio were presented at a half-day workshop at One World Trade Center in lower Manhattan, as part of the UB Innovation Exchange 2018, where students had the opportunity to engage with invited professionals in articulating a vision for the future of the workplace.

Featured projects

Shen Gao asks: what if, in 2043, data occupies more space in the modern office tower than people do? Given the exponential increase in data generated on a daily basis in the workplace, how do we account for the physical space required to accommodate a seemingly insatiable desire for ever-larger data centers? Taking a cue from the architecture of 20th century communications structures such as the AT&T Long Lines building in lower Manhattan, the project is submerged below ground in a world designed for machines: low temperature vaults housing data servers, large UPS power backup systems, and a swarm of maintenance drones watching over the lot.

Evan Martinez speculates that in 2043, after the sharing economy collapsed, companies began to consolidate, bringing their employees, headquarters and entire operations back under one roof. Alphabet Inc. has bought out 50 Hudson Yards and leased space to its subsidiary Google LLC, where its employees live and work, spending their entire lives within the confines of this building. Rethinking what life in the vertical city could become, the project integrates living and working along a “wellness path” consisting of urban amenities such as parks, daycare centers, elementary schools, restaurants and grocery stores.

Rendering by Shen Gao.

Joanne Tseng rethinks the newsroom of the future, at a time where literally anyone can report news. As facts and statistics become less significant than a reporter’s physical presence in lending credibility to the story, the newsroom of the future becomes a temporary hub for increasingly mobile and itinerant journalists. In place of private offices and the traditional cubicle, an open floor plan with flexible hot-desks is proposed that incorporates sleeping capsules, shared kitchens and other amenities for this nomadic workforce.

Kevin Turner explores the implications of an ‘always-on’ culture of technological engagement in the future workspace. Hyper-location tracking, real-time activity monitoring, contextual awareness and related Artificial Intelligence technologies are projected as becoming ubiquitous in the year 2043 – a technological layer of infrastructure overlaid on the built environment. The project looks to answer the question “what if, in the future workplace, you interacted with AI more than you did with human beings?”