Smart Office Challenge: Winning Entry Combines Aesthetics, Technology, Realism

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Every small business dreams of having a smart office – the kind of office that works for their needs and that has the ability to grow and change as the business does. But for some small businesses, finding such a space is not simply about real estate.


In fact, the winner of the HP/Microsoft Smart Office Challenge took inspiration from how we work now, imagined a whole new way of working, and designed to suit. In the end, for architect Alan J. Feltoon, AIA AICP LEED GA, managing principal of MulvannyG2 Architecture’s Washington, D.C. office, industrial design studio Zac & Co., and the design team, the smart office of the future isn’t about what is, but about what could be.


Back to basics – and generational perspective

MulvannyG2’s motto is “creating value through inspired design.” Feltoon’s background is in architecture, interior design, and space planning for both commercial and residential projects. He’s also widely regarded as an expert in his field, teaching classes at New York’s renowned Pratt Institute as an adjunct professor of interior design.


Yet, in deciding to take on the challenge of designing the smart office of the future, Feltoon and team went back to the basics. Feltoon’s son, Zac Feltoon, owner of Zac & Co., which specializes in design and product development for small businesses, was an integral teammate – as was Emily Dunne, a designer in MulvannyG2’s Washington office. Feltoon says looking at the office of the future, especially with input from multiple generations of workers – he, Zac, and Emily – was critical for perspective.


“We brainstormed a lot about the space planning aspect and how users would interact with technology in the space,” says Feltoon. “The three of us represent several generations in the workplace, and we almost needed to design for each one.”


Unique process, unique results

The team also used the Charrette process to develop the design, which encouraged creativity among the team. French for “cart” or “chariot” and originating from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts design school in Paris, the word refers to the cart that picked up student work on deadline as they rushed to finished team design projects.


A common go-to strategy for architects, the design charrette is a specific collaborative technique whose hallmark is dividing design groups into sub-groups to tackle different aspects of a design – then each group presents its ideas to the overall design team.


It’s an effective way to quickly generate a creative design solution for a client – while also including the contributions, aptitudes and interests of multiple designers. In this case, the final design intention went far beyond the idea of the “traditional” office environment.


“Working on this design was an opportunity to talk about other ways to work, and this process helped us do that,” said Alan Feltoon. “We knew we didn’t want to take a conservative approach.”


Design beyond walls

In the end, the team wasn’t thinking about the office as an object to satisfy contest requirements, but more in layers – how the space could be most effective for many, including work styles, technology preference, mobility and more. And, that way of thinking required looking into a proverbial crystal ball.


“It wasn’t about four walls and a laptop,” explains Zac Feltoon, whose firm focuses on new workplace design and the integration of technology into the built environment. “It was about solving problems as an industrial designer that haven’t even come up yet.


For her part, Dunne acted as designer and project manager – giving valuable insight to tweak the design, as well as the big-picture view of how the overall design vision would translate into an actual space.


“Our focus was on modularity and organic growth – two key elements for small businesses so they can adapt and change as their business grows,” explains Dunne. “We had a vision, but it had to have a practical aspect, too.”


HP MIMIC: A flexible space for technology and collaboration

In the end, the team’s HP MIMIC design came out the winner – a fully flexible and modular office that’s customizable via an HP product interface. Howard Mack, a designer in MulvannyG2’s Washington, D.C. office, was key in developing the graphics and design for the HP MIMIC.


In this brave new office space, each office is made of a rigid aluminum frame – durable, yes, but it can also be easily moved to adapt to the reactive and responsive nature of small business growth. Businesses have the option of using individual units to create a community, while the sides and tops of the frame feature a collapsible system of rotating electro-chromatic glass modules that respond to wireless commands via an HP tablet interface.


So, for example, if you want to connect with a co-worker on a new project, or bring in others to help, you can tap on the interface from your tablet to open glass squares at will, close when it’s time to get back to work, or leave partially open to encourage communication. A tri-slide panel on one side of the unit offers both a pinup and whiteboard surface for notes, and digital electro-chromatic glass for screen sharing and impromptu presentations.


“The HP Mimic design is about using technology to enhance the space, without being overwhelming,” says Zac Feltoon. “Our devices no longer tie us to a particular space, but collaboration with other people and teams does, and this space reflects that ability to do that easily and effectively, using technology.”


“Mimic creates a new opportunity for a different kind of collaboration,” explains Dunne. “It may be a singular unit, but it can flex, grow and change to accommodate cross-disciplinary interaction.”


Much like the world of small business, the HP MIMIC design reflects the sentiment of where every business, large or small, really wants to be – flexible, adaptable, and open to change. Congratulations to this year’s Smart Office Challenge winner for such an innovative design – a unique collaboration between MulvannyG2 and Zac & Co. We look forward to seeing your design in action at the ALT Summit, scheduled for January 23-26!


NOTE: We’ll have special posts on 367 Addison Avenue during the ALT Summit, including smart office design tips from our winner, so be sure to check back and discover ways that you can take advantage of technology while also encouraging collaboration, creativity and productivity in your own office.

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