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The Future of Design

Meaghan O'Neill

Much of human progress over the past century has been magnificent. Technology that brings information to the remotest corners of the world and medicine that heals diseases once thought incurable are all signs of what humans can accomplish. Game-changing innovations are what we need more of right now, too. With just 10 years to reduce our global carbon dioxide output by 45 percent (or else), we need unprecedented and far-reaching solutions across industries, policy, and all sectors of society. Luckily, the design community is ahead of the curve.

“We need to find multidisciplinary solutions to the great challenges of our time in order to continue to live and thrive on this planet,” says Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founder of Snøhetta, whose remarkable, energy-positive buildings are featured below. That's going to require keeping an open mind, “to change our understanding of what is ugly and what is beautiful," he reminds us, and “to redefine our aesthetic preferences.”

Although architects and designers cannot solve complex global problems alone, they're some of the most important players in this critical fight. Buildings that create more power than they use, urban corridors of biodiversity, and resilient designs that can withstand extreme weather and migrating populations are systematic changes that are beginning to emerge. This kind of critical thinking will create the forward momentum we need to regenerate our world, while making it more equitable and healthy—for humans, plants, and animals alike.

Call it the Airbnb effect: Tourists everywhere are saying so long to sterile, inauthentic design. Travelers of tomorrow want to feel culturally immersed in the places they visit. As a result, hotels and restaurants are focusing on authenticity and regional and hyperlocal context expressed through architecture and interiors to enhance visitor experiences. At the Hotel Peter & Paul in New Orleans, weaving the hotel into the local fabric was essential to its success. That meant “looking to the past to find the heart of the place and using history to create experiences that are rooted in soul yet swathed in the currency of today,” explains Ari Heckman, founding partner and chief executive officer of ASH NYC, and Will Cooper, partner and chief creative officer. “A well-designed space should feel less contrived and more experiential.”
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Peter & Paul

The environment is not the only crisis, however; our health and well-being are at risk, too, due to the stressors all around us. For that reason, wellness is beginning to be considered in all aspects of design. The approach to cities and transportation is becoming more human-centered, offering walkability, bikeability, flexibility, and less pollution. In the workplace, things like air quality, thermal comfort, and inclusivity are helping to boost performance. And as our ability to capture and deploy big data improves, we'll use it to target interventions that will support our emotional and physical health.

Access to nature will also be vital, with vertical gardens, urban forests, and biodiverse backyards becoming the norm. It's not just about pretty spaces: Exposure to nature has been proven to help people heal faster, students learn better, and employees become more productive. And say goodbye to sterile, inauthentic design: The demand for immersive, contextual architecture and experiences will slow the rollout of dull hotels and shopping centers that could be dropped into Anywhere, USA. Technology will, of course, continue to seep into our lives, making our homes even more crucial sources of respite from the noise of the outside world. But as our appliances grow more connected, the presence of technology at home will recede into the background.

Great design will intrinsically be what drives this progress. “I am hopeful for the future of design and architecture,” says Thorsen, and we agree. Here's how its top thinkers are working to enhance our lives in the years ahead. The future is closer than you think.

TRANSPORTATION

Imagine a gleaming world where transportation is on-demand, clean, efficient, and safe. Where pedestrians rule the roads, freight vehicles are quiet, and long-distance trips are completed hassle-free. That's where the future of transportation is headed, and it's not as far off as you may think. Flying taxis and a hyperloop are both on the horizon—and run on electricity. Autonomous vehicles are preparing to help make our commutes more productive and package deliveries more reliable, while our homes will add smart platforms to receive them. When we do drive, it will be in forward-thinking cars, like Ferrari's SF90 Stradale, the brand's first production plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Smart planning will be the key to a smooth transition, though much of this new technology will function using existing infrastructure. Our buildings, too, will become decentralized transit hubs, and train stations, airports, and other hubs will be better connected than ever.

The Future of Design: Transportation

Autonomous vehicles have more range. Manufacturers such as Mercedes, Tesla, and Cadillac are already making auto-pilot a standard feature on many consumer models, and soon cars will regularly be driverless. While some futurists argue that planning should focus less on car-based transport altogether, supporters picture cities where sustainable, efficient vehicles—like the electric Mercedes-Benz Vans Vision URBANETIC, above—will transport people and goods in ways that reduce traffic and noise pollution and improve safety and quality of life, all on existing roadway infrastructure.
Photo: Daimler AG - Global Communications Mercedes-Benz Cars
When we do drive, we'll do it well. Even as our mobility and commutes become more efficient and productive, there will always be days when we want to hit the open road. For those occasions, electric car solutions abound; makers including Volvo and Tesla are turning out electric luxury models that fulfill the need for speed. Or take Ferrari's SF90 Stradale, pictured here—the brand's fastest production car—an electric hybrid that goes 211 miles per hour and hits 62 miles per hour in just 2.5 seconds. What makes this future possible? Replacing internal combustion engines with next-generation lithium-ion battery packs and cells. For vehicles to meet consumer expectations, range, speed of charge, and safety are all paramount. State-of-the-art coatings, sealants, and binders from manufacturers like PPG that control temperature, keep out moisture, limit corrosion and vibration, and connect battery cells are key to making them more durable, efficient, safe, and cost-effective. The same technology is leading to enhancements in power tools, vacuums, and renewable energy storage, too.
Photo: Courtesy of Ferrari
Last-mile delivery gets a leg up. For companies such as Amazon and FedEx, dropping products at the door is an expensive and inefficient logistics problem that's been notoriously hard to solve. At the same time, courier services are more in demand than ever, with consumer expectations—for flexible, reliable, and same-day delivery, as well as quick returns—on the rise. Efficient, driverless vehicles, drones, and delivery robots are improving the experience, navigating residential areas noiselessly and with zero emissions, better safety outcomes, and more transparency. Other approaches, like the FutureHAUS, designed by a team at Virginia Tech, focus on intake; the conceptual residence has a drone hatch that provide packages with a clever landing pad.
Photo: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company
Flying taxis take off. How we move within and between cities will also change as more efficient vehicles and on-demand services emerge. German start-up Volocopter, pictured above, for example, plans to operate its first all-electric air taxis in Singapore next year; eventually Volo-ports could become common elements of multimodal transit hubs, attached to train stations, airports, and even commercial building roofs.
Photo: Courtesy of Volocopter / Brandlab
Streetscapes are humancentric. Even as autonomous cars emerge, our streets will become increasingly people-centered. Reducing vehicle lanes to safely accommodate cyclists and pedestrians will improve circulation, connectivity, and cultural context. Putting carcentric streets on “diets” also helps preserve the character-defining elements of a neighborhood and can even improve commerce. In Shanghai’s Changning district, above, for example, Gensler is programming mixed-use spaces to enhance the area's growing reputation for arts and fashion. Buildings will be raised to create a dynamic pedestrian plaza with wide walkways and easy access to nearby Tianshan Park and to mass transit. The outcome connects spaces in a logical way that puts humans (not vehicles) at the center of design.
Photo: Courtesy of Gensler
Hyperloop arrives. Airplane-quick overland travel won't be the stuff of science fiction for long. Virgin's Hyperloop One will soon be loading passengers and cargo into pods that will whoosh them through low-pressure tubes via magnetic levitation. Ultra-fast, on-demand, and emission-free, Hyperloop One will get from Mumbai, India, where the first station will be built, to Pune, India, in just 25 minutes—the same trip by car would take three hours.
Photo: Courtesy of Virgin Hyperloop One

TRAVEL

Whether it's jetting to far-flung adventure in wild lands or exploring urban side streets, travelers of tomorrow will have high expectations. They want seamless connectivity, efficient transportation, and immersive experiences, and the architecture and design of the near future aims to deliver. From airports that trim travel times to eco-retreats that plunge visitors into their natural surroundings, high rollers and budget spenders alike will find destinations and amenities that help them squeeze the most out of their wanderlust. Going forward, we'll enter worlds where we disconnect from digital drudgery and revitalize our spirits with hotels, open spaces, public art, and natural settings that are culturally stimulating and contextually relevant in the best possible ways.

Convenience and elegant technology will simplify and enrich our experiences, but above all, a sense of place is essential. “Geography tells us if we're in the mountains or in the desert,” says designer Mario Romano. “Architecture should too.”

The Future of Design: Travel

Connections are easier to make. Air travel is expected to double over the next two decades, but can it ever become civilized again? Much of the growth will occur in Asia, where Zaha Hadid Architects’ new Beijing Daxing International Airport, above, which will open this month, will accommodate 72 million passengers per year. Focused on user-friendliness, efficiency, and adaptability for future expansion, the design minimizes distances between gates and amenities and handles passenger check-in at a single center, rather than multiple small terminals. Multiple modes of ground transportation, such as high-speed rail, are also easy to access—an important element in reducing carbon footprints and improving passenger convenience.
Photo: Render by Methanoia © Zaha Hadid Architects
Getting off the grid is a luxury—and a necessity. In contrast to the mad dash of our everyday lives, travelers will be looking to disconnect from their gadgets and reconnect with nature. In such pristine environments, ecologically minded buildings are a must. Svart, an eco-retreat at the foot of a Norwegian glacier in the Arctic Circle, will use 85 percent less energy than a modern hotel, and generate its own power, too. The hotel's circular design ensures that rooms, restaurants, and terraces are strategically placed to optimize sunlight throughout the day and seasons. Designed by Snøhetta, the resort exemplifies the crossover of eco-tourism, sustainability, wellness, and recreation that is at the cutting edge of experiential travel.
Photo: Snøhetta/Plompmozes
Public art and spaces are appealing destinations. With immersive experiences becoming more of a draw, travelers want ways to connect with cities and landscapes themselves. To take a walk and feel the energy of a place is an essential traveler's experience; the most appealing destinations offer accessible public spaces and art that attract visitors and locals alike. In New York City, for example, The Shed, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro with Rockwell Group, is not only a stunning piece of kinetic architecture with gallery and performance space, it also offers inviting public areas. “These spaces are for everyone—locals as well as tourists—and make people feel like they belong in a city and can make a connection,” says Derek Gagne, associate principal at EDSA. At the firm's Dubai Opera House, which is situated on a public plaza, the building's theatrics are mirrored in the public realm, where sculpture, water features, and outdoor performances bring it to life.
Photo: Photo by Iwan Baan, courtesy of The Shed
Call it the Airbnb effect. Tourists everywhere are saying so long to sterile, inauthentic design. Travelers of tomorrow want to feel culturally immersed in the places they visit. As a result, hotels and restaurants are focusing on authenticity and regional and hyperlocal context expressed through architecture and interiors to enhance visitor experiences. At the Hotel Peter & Paul in New Orleans, weaving the hotel into the local fabric was essential to its success. That meant “looking to the past to find the heart of the place and using history to create experiences that are rooted in soul yet swathed in the currency of today,” explain Ari Heckman, founding partner and chief executive officer of ASH NYC, and Will Cooper, partner and chief creative officer. “A well-designed space should feel less contrived and more experiential.”
Photo: Courtesy of Hotel Peter & Paul
Guests get an upgrade. Technology has impacted the hospitality industry from booking to check-in and beyond. Unsurprisingly, it will continue to wash over the guest experience in more ways, too. In-room appliances like U by Moen, a next-generation digital shower, connect with Alexa, Google Home, and Siri, allowing users to connect and control water flow and temperature via voice, a smartphone app, or an in-shower controller. Catering to business travelers, other hotels are adding dispersed, tech-enabled meeting spaces, like ZenSpace's soundproof pods. Expect to be more relaxed and more productive than ever on the road.
Photo: Moen
Local connections are valued above materiality. Tourists in the near future will want to relax as much as they do today, but when they travel they'll seek out connection rather than consumer goods. “Programming and outdoor experiences are creating a more holistic experience,” says EDSA's Gagne. “People want to enjoy the weather and nature and seek out destinations that have these elements incorporated into their design.” To design for these emerging trends, Gagne tries to “understand what the locals are doing.” Hiring regional craftspeople and using local materials, as EDSA did at Castiglion del Bosco in Italy, helped create a “consistency in the architecture with Italian culture.”
Photo: Courtesy of EDSA

CITIES

As our understanding of urban planning increasingly focuses on humancentric design, cities will be laid out to enhance wellness. Walkability, bikeability, and more efficient and multimodal transportation will reduce pollution and increase health and happiness. Shared public spaces and mixed-use developments will be thoughtfully constructed with cultural and geographic sensitivity that brings diverse populations together, honors and develops a sense of place, and attracts visitors. Gone will be the homogenous, sterile malls and stand-alone shopping districts built for superconsumers. In come vibrant public spaces that allow people to connect and biodiversity to thrive. Access to nature will also be vital: Large-scale parks and forests, tiny wildflower meadows, vertical gardens, and urban agriculture will be the norm, and also help build more resilient communities in the face of extreme weather.

Buildings will also play a pivotal role in creating a brighter future. They'll be decentralized energy and transit hubs that improve the well-being of people and the ecology around them. Their facades will live, breathe, and clean the air, while improving the lives of their inhabitants. “The way we live now, supporting our lives with unclean energy to support a worldwide equilibrium of comfort levels, is in no way sustainable,” cautions Snøhetta founder Thorsen.

The Future of Design: Cities

Resiliency by design is paramount. For some cities, the water will come. In others, living with far less of it will become essential. How do we design in the face of rapidly changing climate and extreme weather? Bjarke Ingels Group has an idea: Go with the flow. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012 revealed multiple structural and environmental vulnerabilities in New York City's infrastructure, developing solutions to protect residents from future events became a priority. Now, BIG is helping to redesign a 10-mile stretch of coastline around Manhattan's southern tip. The Big U, as the project is known, carves out green, active, and cultural spaces that the public can use in fair weather; during a storm, its protective walls and resilient plantings can absorb rising tides and protect the city.
Photo: Courtesy of BIG
Deflecting heat is a beautiful chore. To achieve those lofty goals, municipalities will update building and infrastructure codes, making next-level efficiencies standard, and reducing factors contributing to climate change. Cool roofs, which reflect heat, are just one way that urban structures can both reduce cooling needs and the heat-island effect. Now, innovations in reflective pigments, such as PPG's cooling and reflective coatings and paints, allow architects to specify a broader range of colors than ever before that can be applied to roofs as well as exterior facades. These allow buildings like the Passive House and Bloomberg Center (above) at Cornell Tech on New York's Roosevelt Island to gleam. Sheathed in beautiful metallic and mica-based paints, they not only deflect heat and reduce energy use, but are literally shining examples of a brighter future.
Photo: Matthew Carbone for Morphosis
Adaptive reuse bridges past and future. Sometimes the greenest building is the one that already exists. Bruner/Cott's 25-year master plan for the MASS MoCA campus proves that effective adaptive reuse techniques should persist well into the future. The space, located in North Adams, Massachusetts, is now one of the largest contemporary art museums in the country and has been central to the city's economic revival. The pioneering project, which sits on a 17-acre industrial complex built in the late 1800s, now comprises 280,000 square feet of galleries, performance venues, and commercial units. Adapting programming to buildings preserved their texture and scale, challenged conventional notions of museum space, and sparked a new way of thinking about reuse. “I have seen the future, and it's MASS MoCA,” wrote Lee Rosenbaum in the Wall Street Journal when the first phase of the project was completed in 1999. Twenty years later, with Phase III recently completed, the observation remains true.
Photo: Michael Moran Photography, courtesy of Bruner/Cott Architects
Buildings double as power plants. Located in Trondheim, Norway, the Snøhetta-designed Powerhouse Brattørkaia sets a new standard for construction, and in a challenging climate: The building will produce more energy than it consumes in its lifetime, including construction and demolition. On average, it produces more than twice as much electricity as it consumes daily, supplying energy to neighbors and vehicles via a local micro grid. “Energy-positive buildings are the future,” says Snøhetta founder Kjetil Trædal Thorsen. “We believe that there is beauty in a form that follows environmental considerations before purely functional ones. Human health needs to be considered on a social, physiological, and psychological level.” The firm is also researching zero-emission houses and neighborhoods.
Photo: Ivar Kavaal
Small green spaces create large-scale changes. Re-wilding our cities with urban forests, vertical gardens, urban farming, and even tiny meadows is improving biodiversity and reducing the effects of climate change. Stefano Boeri Architect's Tirana Vertical Forest is a stunning example. The building features a facade that holds more than 3,200 shrubs and bushes and 145 trees, creating a new urban ecosystem. On a larger scale, Boeri's master plan calls for a “landscape recovery” of the entire Albanian city: The strategy, being implemented over the next 10 years, creates green spaces out of urban “gaps,” a green-ring around the city center, and a ring of woodland around the outer limits.
Photo: Stefano Boeri Architetti
Building facades live and breathe. As buildings become “smarter,” their skins will change, too. Some will have features such as double-skin facades that help naturally cool, heat, light, and ventilate interior spaces. Others, like Terreform ONE's Monarch Sanctuary, become a part of the ecology itself. Its eight-story exterior will be a butterfly habitat, incorporating milkweed and other plants and creating a space that the firm describes as a “new biome of coexistence for people, plants, and butterflies.”
Photo: Terreform ONE, Mitchell Joachim
Design anticipates displacement. In 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly displaced—more than anytime before in history. Migrant populations, shifting demographics, and displacement due to disasters are all on the rise. To prepare for these inevitable—yet often unpredictable—shifts, designers must respond with flexibility. “Our buildings and infrastructure need to be 'future-proofed' to anticipate not only changing climates and technologies, but changing uses and easy redevelopment,” says Brian Swett, principal and director of cities and sustainable real estate at Arup. A school built today should consider its second life as housing, for example, while transportation infrastructure must plan for expansion. Other solutions include safe, affordable housing that can be rapidly deployed. For example, Shigeru Ban Architects' mobile container housing and paper-tube structures, designed with Arup, were critical housing solutions after the massive earthquake hit Japan in 2011. “In periods of anticipated but uncertain, rapid change,” says Swett, “we need to evolve how we design and plan our cities so that they can effectively respond to changing demands.”
Photo: Hiroyuki Hirai
Cities get smart. What if a building could capture air quality data, deliver it to you in real time, and suggest ways to protect yourself from potential harm? That level of connectivity is already underway in Kashiwa-no-ha Smart City in Japan. Designed by ZGF, this hyperconnected urban area links buildings through an energy network that shares utility loads; they also broadcast building performance information on monitors. In high-use areas, an app notifies people about when and how to reduce consumption. The master plan, scheduled for completion in 2030, plans for a regenerative and resilient city that coexists with nature, supports the health of its residents, and fosters growth. Such “smart cities” embrace the kind of district-level planning that connects residents to each other and to the built environment, enabling efficiency, choice, and wellness.
Photo: Couresy of ZGF
Green New Deals are totally a thing. While our federal government sticks its head in the stand, some cities aren't waiting for top-down instructions. Many—including Boston, New York, and Los Angeles—are implementing their own ambitious Green New Deals. L.A.'s strategy calls for zero carbon emissions by 2050 and meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement. That includes making every building emission-free, adding tens of thousands of green jobs, achieving zero waste, and generating 100-percent clean energy. Now that's West Coast cool.
Photo: Chris Delmas / Getty Images

HOME

In our chaotic, busy lives, creating sanctuary is increasingly more important. But rather than seek it at a spa, we are retreating into our homes and creating backyard refuges. Inside these hallowed spaces and removed from the hustle of the outside world, we seek well-being, tranquility, and connection to nature. “People need quiet and space at the end of the day,” says color and paint expert Dee Schlotter of PPG, who sees calming and hopeful color trends on the horizon. Technology, of course, wants in, too, and our appliances will become more sophisticated and digitally adapted—even as they visually recede into the background.

More than ever, our abodes are turning into unique reflections of our inner selves, with decor tailored to our whims. Leasable home goods will allow us to redecorate at will, and enable a new generation of nimble, nomadic workers to easily move between cities and jobs. Likewise, furnishings that are easy to disassemble and move are growing popular, too. Physically free from the tyranny of stuff, we'll be more flexible—and financially freer—than ever before.

The Future of Design: Home

Mass variation replaces mass production. Advances in CNC routing and 3D printing increasingly will allow designers to create products and spaces that are one-of-a-kind, yet easy to fabricate and install. That's the approach for designer Mario Romano, whose multidimensional textured M.R. Walls, a collaboration with Corian, can be printed on demand and endlessly tweaked to customer specifications. “You're not trapped by the shape of one mass-produced object, such as tile,” says Romano, whose patterns are inspired by nature. “You're applying that kind of mass variation, as opposed to mass production, and that's where we're focused.”
Photo: Jason Speth, courtesy of M.R. Walls by Mario Romano
Homes are an oasis of calm. In a world of digital overload and absurd political circuses, our homes are our best defense against outside noise. While millennial pink and the KonMari Method have been efforts to instill a sense of serenity and control for several years, an increase in color is the latest tactic. Shades of blue—like PPG's Chinese Porcelain, the 2020 color of the year—are increasingly bubbling up. “Blues psychologically calm us down,” says Dee Schlotter, senior color marketing manager at PPG. “They quell anxiety, but also bring hopefulness.” Colors that conjure nature are on the rise, too, she says: Green and saffron will play supporting roles in establishing tranquility and well-being in the home.
Photo: Courtesy of PPG
Yards are not just for lounging. Our backyards are more than just extensions of our living rooms; they're corridors of connectivity that matter to larger ecosystems. Perfectly manicured lawns are giving way to native plantings, roof gardens, and wildlife habitats. At this garden in the Marin Hills of California, designed by Scott Lewis Landscape Architecture, grass meadows and water retention methods reduce water usage to just 3 percent of what's allowed by the county. Fencing was not used, creating open spaces for wildlife. Looking at “property in the context of the greater surroundings,” says Lewis, “can knit it together with surrounding areas.”
Photo: David Wakely
Technology hides out at home. While tech will seep into more corners of our homes, smart appliances will allow it to recede into the background (where it belongs). Less beeping and flashing will mean more efficiency and a greater sense of calm and well-being. Duravit's Happy D.2 Plus mirrors, for example, are dimmable and conveniently self-defog; more importantly, ambient lights adjust to the time of day, matching the user's circadian rhythm and improving sleep and wakefulness.
Photo: Mark Seelen / Courtesy of Duravit
Affordable housing gets smart. Across the country, affordable housing is as risk, from overcrowding, gentrification, extreme weather, and more. Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates and the New York City Housing Authority have one clever solution to such issues at Red Hook Houses in Brooklyn. To lessen vulnerability to natural disasters and improve livability of the 28 buildings, their plan proposes freestanding structures for above-ground boilers that glow like lanterns and 14 “utility pods” that further decentralize infrastructure. Raised green plots called lily pads are vibrant social spaces during normal weather, but act as flood barriers and safe havens during extreme events. Humility, empathy, and input from residents are critical to such a project's success, says Cole Roberts, associate principal at Arup Americas, the engineer for the redesign. “Open your eyes and ears to the people of the community, who already know their strengths and weaknesses.”
Photo: Courtesy of OLIN
Furniture is swappable—not disposable. As millennials invest in fewer houses than the generations before them, they remain nimble to move, change jobs, or travel while working in the gig economy. Modular furniture is de rigueur for this set, but now there's a new game in town: furniture rentals. Services like Fernish and Feather allow us to live in the environments we want, without the investment—or the moving costs. The Snoo, a tech-enabled cradle codesigned by Yves Béhar, follows a similar business model. “Renting is a wonderful win-win-win,” says the Snoo's creator, Dr. Harvey Karp, “helping more families, providing recurring revenue, and offering a friendlier option for the environment.”
Photo: Courtesy of SNOO
Wellness is prioritized. “People have such busy lives now,” says Lauren Witkoff, executive vice president of sales and marketing at development firm Witkoff. “Time and convenience are the ultimate amenities.” That drives programming at Witkoff's luxury residential towers, like 111 Murray Street in New York, which includes 20,000 square feet of amenities space designed by David Rockwell. Residents have in-house access to a top-notch pool and fitness center, of course, but also a Drybar, Tracie Martyn facials, saunas, and personal trainers, along with the piece de resistance, a chic Turkish hammam. “It's a little innovative, a little practical, and exceptionally beautiful,” says Witkoff, who notes that these elevated options help drive sales. “It's not just about physical fitness, but mental and spiritual wellness.”
Photo: Courtesy 111 Murray Street

WORKPLACE

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The end of the formal office as we know it may be fast approaching. Designers and smart employers are looking at the best ways to improve not only the operational performance of their buildings, but also employee health, happiness, and, as a result, productivity. Cutting-edge research shows that exposure to nature, access to daylight, and collaborative spaces that spark creativity will become increasingly imperative. As a sense of comfort begins to pervade the workplace, stiff, conventional furnishings are yielding to cushy couches, playful patterns, soft colors, and offbeat breakout areas. But these aren't just prettier places to work—such spaces affect productivity, absenteeism, and wellness, and have a significant impact on the bottom line.

The Future of Design: Workplace

Data drives design. Companies like WeWork have redefined the work space as we know it. By designing for coworking and collaboration, incorporating comforts of home, and livening up design, they've effectively buried the dull gray cubicle forever. But it's not just gig economy workers who are showing up—multiple Fortune 500 companies have called on WeWork to build out coworking spaces within their corporate offices, too. It's not only millennial aesthetics that drive design, either; “ buildings equal data” is a WeWork mantra that influences location, colors, and even how desks are arranged.
Photo: Courtesy of WeWork / VRX Studios / Teri Bocko
Nature rules. Biophilia is a buzzword that refers to our innate love of nature. Data shows that exposure and access to the living world can improve student test scores, heal patients faster, make us more productive, and generally lift our spirits. Unsurprisingly, buildings from schools to hospitals are testing the theory, but The Spheres at Amazon's Seattle campus may be among the most sensational examples of bringing nature to work. Home to more than 40,000 cloud forest plants, the curved glass orbs were designed by NBBJ to provide a place for employees to step away from their desks, think creatively, and collaborate.
Photo: Bruce Damonte
Offices buildings will work hard—for humans. High-performance buildings are designed for cost-effectiveness, but also to enhance the well-being of those who occupy them. They are energy and resource-efficient, minimize their eco-footprint, and are resilient, but also consider optimal conditions for human health, wellness, and comfort. Companies across industries are getting on board with this emerging trend—and they're not just being kind. Thermal comfort, air quality, and exposure to natural light can all impact productivity measurably and lead to better employee retention, less absenteeism, and ultimately, a better bottom line. At Google's 1212 Bordeaux in Sunnyvale, California—its first ground-up building—Parabola Architecture embraced beauty and simplicity to create an efficient, healthy building with ample sunlight and connection to nature. Programmatically, 1212 Bordeaux features “buzz, buffer, and focus” zones that support a variety of needs throughout the workday—giving the coffee break and breakout meetings a whole new vibe.
Photo: ©Google /Prakash Patel Photography
Office spaces feel more like home. With work-life boundaries getting fuzzier and as employees get more comfortable working from remote locations, expectations for comfort and flexibility in the workplace are going up too. To compete, offices are relying on “resimercial” furnishings and layouts that blend task-specific spaces, coworking areas, and styles that (sort of) mimic working from home. Think beanbags, pillows, café tables, and maybe even a hammock or two. For Atrium Staffing's offices, pictured above, Spector Group paired exposed brick walls with leather club chairs near a reception area and chic seating with oversized pillows in a private office. The effect is contemporary and clean, with just the right amount of cozy.
Photo: Ben Gancsos
Things will be quieter. Will noise pollution be the next health epidemic? Some experts think so. Sound can have lasting effects on humans and affect the ecology too. In the workplace, this trend is already emerging on a smaller scale. As walls come down in open-plan offices, employees are more frequently seeking escapes from the chatter. Enter work pods: soundproof, telephone booth–like cubes that offer a reprieve from distraction. As workplace layouts continue to evolve, more solutions like the ZenPod, above, will hit the market.
Photo: Courtesy of ZenSpace
Inclusive design boosts our intellectual capacity. Different from accessible and universal design, inclusive design is not just for people who might otherwise be left out, but welcomes them in the process, too. That could mean, for example, embracing input from neighborhood groups, people with physical disabilities, the neurologically atypical, or the LGBTQ community. The benefits of such diversity can help companies solve problems in entirely new ways. At the Rhode Island School of Design, for example, WORKac collaborated with QSPACE, a queer architectural research organization, to create a gender-neutral bathroom, pictured above. With playful geometry and colors, private toilets arranged around a communal sink signal a space “that doesn't force its users into fixed gendered boxes,” writes the firm.
Photo: Bruce Damonte

Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest