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The workplace is constantly evolving, responding to its occupants’ changing needs. More people are working more hours in increasingly differentiated ways. It cannot simply be a place where work gets done; it must also enhance collaboration, attract and engage employees, build brand and culture, and support well being. This is where Vertical Intelligent Architecture (V.I.A.)—moveable, technology enabled walls with advanced acoustical properties—comes in.
The wall is an integral part of any office plan, but it often does little more than divide space in a static manner. What if it could do more? What if it could be as flexible and dynamic as the work cultures it’s meant to support? What if it could act as a work surface, express brand identity and provide the acoustical privacy urgently needed in densely populated, dynamic workplaces?
Integrating more intelligence into vertical planes can help achieve these goals. Enter V.I.A., which redefines the role vertical real estate plays in the workplace. To understand this, it helps to think about the workplace as an ecosystem of diverse spaces that serve different purposes, support different activities and provide different tools. The ecosystem allows people to move freely from completely private spaces such as an enclave, to semi-private spaces such as a project team room, to completely open spaces. This freedom is necessary so people can work with right levels of privacy, access to technology and proximity to others.
In addition to optimizing levels of privacy, technology integrated into V.I.A. can augment employee interactions. In the future there will be three primary types of workplace interaction technology: powerful handheld devices, cloud computing and large scale architectural displays. V.I.A makes it easy for teams to share their information from personal devices and the cloud via large-scale displays.
Companies such as Microsoft, Dow Corning, Oblong and Cisco have allowed for the development of intelligent rooms that will self-configure around people, technology and process. For example, a room could recognize employees by their mobile devices, configure the lighting and temperature to their preferences, pull relevant project information off the cloud, and allows them to begin collaborating immediately. Many of these technologies do exist today in one form or another and it will not be long before they all come together to create these intelligent rooms.
This development will require a shift in the planning pendulum to provide more choice around levels of privacy for both teams and individuals. In this rapidly evolving scenario, the vertical plane doesn’t just divide one space from another; it will now create new spaces and new surfaces. V.I.A. provides a sense of permanence with the speed and design flexibility of a re-locatable wall, allowing the creation of a range of applications.
What’s most exciting about V.I.A. is that it has been created to anticipate future needs. It is designed to accept new technology as it evolves. For example, gesture recognition will be available soon, and one can only imagine the myriad other possibilities on the horizon. The first step is for office designers to realize that crucial value can be created through V.I.A, and to commit to capturing that value as effectively as possible. From there, advances in technology and workstyles will combine to enhance workplace effectiveness.
Congdon is Global Director of Research Communications at Steelcase and studies changes in the ways people work and trends in the workplace.