Designing without boundaries: the office of 2040

What would the office of 2040 look like if there were no constraints? Fast Company asked five top designers and architects to shape the future

When designing for the future, designers are often met with certain criteria laced with restrictions – but what happens when free reign is given and boundaries don’t exist? Fast Company tested this theory by asking five top designers and architects to skip the growing pains of current work cultures and imagine what the workplace could look like in 20 years.

While many designs respond to global issues such as urbanisation and health and wellbeing in utopian designs, one concept prepares for basic survival in the future.

Streets in the sky

The concept from Safdie Architects is based on the physical relationship between working, living and playing. As urbanisation continues to increase and our cities become denser, there will be a battle for public space on the ground. Safdie Architects propose that public space is lifted from the ground and inserted into high rise buildings where open-air atria and parks can be found at the mid heights of buildings. This concept does not stop at the single building, however. Indoor and outdoor spaces are linked to adjacent buildings through bridges and walkways, creating a network of streets in the sky. This design aims to break down the separations between working in high rise buildings and the surrounding city.

Return to Mother Earth

While most visions of 2040 include roaming drones and highly sophisticated robots, Herman Miller’s concept brings work back to its fundamental origins: nature. The concept does not ignore the highly likely future that artificial intelligence will help us master the cultural and operational heart of organisations to create dynamic and data-driven connections with the built environment. However, this project conceives the built environment as a responsive ecosystem – one that mimics the cycle of coral reefs and rainforests and encompasses the evolution of change. It also looks at the office as a breeding ground for sensory engagement.

Survival of the workplace

Studio O+A present a slightly more dystopian vision for the workplace of 2040. Despite increasing urbanism and the migration of people into cities, hysteria around climate change means there will be a moratorium on new construction. This will create a new breed of the sharing economy. Organisations with underutilised space will be mandated to share desks and offices. This concept will filter into every facet of our lives as underused space in homes will be converted into remote offices. A new architecture of pop-up structures will blossom, made out of sustainable materials such as bamboo and other living materials. All design will be created with biophilia in mind, not as an aesthetic luxury but as a survival necessity to combat poor air quality. One positive O+A derives from the climate emergency is how the idea of work in the future will change. As everyone comes together for the sake of sheer survival, fundamental shifts will occur on how we collaborate. New technologies will seamlessly allow us to conduct work remotely and the demand for space will be for community centres and innovation hubs, much like the agora of the ancient Greeks.

An office for life

Alda Ly Architecture and Design brings us to a much more familiar depiction of the future office. It focuses on the human connection element of work as technology will reduce the need for physical proximity. This future allows for portable, adaptable and flexible environments and tools to take the worker anywhere, leaving the office space for daily living. The open-office layout will give way to integrated space for entertainment, wellness, nature and housing, which will foster more meaningful connections to our environments and communities.

Deep dive into work and play

The concept put forward by Food New York embraces the power of different places. As tools become more mobile, the key focus for the office of 2040 won’t be on how you work, but where you work. With this in mind, work shouldn’t be associated to one static place. It should be a multi-faceted, integrated part of daily routine which promotes enjoyment and fun – and the environment plays a big part in that. This concept builds on a highly fluid and adaptive idea that the more we connect to natural resources, the better we’ll be at taking care of natural resources and the more sustainable our work and lives will be.

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