A New York marketing firm has installed the world’s largest desk in its office in a bid to foster collaboration.
Designed by Clive Wilkinson Architects (CWA), the desk spans 4,400 square feet and is used by 125 employees of marketing firm The Barbarian Group.
The company wanted to create an “endless table” that created both individual work spaces plus an array of creative group, meeting and social areas.
The desk runs fluidly through the space. Plywood supports an unbroken polymer desk surface which was made from a single pour of resin. The desk flows into seven archways and tunnels, offering multiple uses, including pedestrian access, storage space and a communal area to work or meet.
“Since conventional office tools are now largely redundant, people simply need flat surfaces to work on and easily accessible places to meet and collaborate,” CWA said of the project. “Like an electrical wire, the table surface itself becomes a medium for connecting and centering a community.”
“The plywood structure rises from the existing oak floor as pony walls supporting the table. Because the movement routes bisect the space, we lifted the table to fly over pathways and maintain surface continuity. The resulting grotto-like spaces underneath the ‘arches’ can accommodating meetings, provide private focused workspace or high counter workspace and house bookshelves and other storage,” the firm added.
In a video showcasing the desk, Barbabian Group chairman Benjamin Palmer said the desk was built from scratch in eight years and revealed it cost considerably less than a traditional cubicle/desk layout.
Palmer added that the desk was fabricated in Los Angeles by machinists, laser cut using vintage automative robots out of low cost materials including plywood, MBF and plate steel. The desk sections were then flat packed and assembled on site.
“There’s subtle divisions in the space but the idea is that every department and discipline flows into another one so people run into eachother a lot as they’re moving around the office,” he said.
The desk also exudes casualness, which is a growing trend particularly for creative offices and firms.
Office design in general has been driven heavily by technology and the ability for employees to be mobile. Communal office settings have also been shown to increase productivity and employee contentment.
Traditionally, a job title would dictate the size and location of your office space however today workplaces are becoming hierarchy-neutral moving away from isolated cubicles and closed doors where everyone sits together.
In September, the World Green Building Council released a report entitled Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building, presenting overwhelming evidence that office design has significant impacts on staff members.
"The way the interior of an office is configured has a profound impact on concentration, collaboration, confidentiality and creativity – and can therefore either enable, or limit, productivity,” the report states. “It can also have a very direct impact on health and wellbeing, which in turn also impacts productivity."
"Interior layout in this context incorporates workstation density, task based spaces, breakout spaces and social features, and active design."
While the benefits of communal working continue to be praised, there is growing research that suggests this communal style of working is not for everyone.
A 2013 report, Workspace satisfaction: The privacy-communication trade-off in open-plan offices by Jungsoo Kim describes the “Open-plan office layout as an assumed design by organisations that will “facilitate communication and interaction between co-workers, promoting workplace satisfaction and team-work effectiveness."
Kim says open-plan layouts can disrupt work flow due to noise and a lack of privacy.
“Based on the occupant survey database from Center for the Built Environment (CBE), empirical analyses indicated that occupants assessed Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) issues in different ways depending on the spatial configuration (classified by the degree of enclosure) of their workspace," Kim's report states.
“Enclosed private offices clearly outperformed open-plan layouts in most aspects of IEQ, particularly in acoustics, privacy and the proxemics issues. Benefits of enhanced ‘ease of interaction’ were smaller than the penalties of increased noise level and decreased privacy resulting from open-plan office configuration.”
In the case of The Barbarian Group, however, the open-plan office and desk aligns with the firm's desire to foster teamwork and creative collaboration.