Antenna Workspaces by Knoll Bring Optimism Back

July 06, 2010

Of all the furnishings in an office space, few invite more interaction with the users than systems furniture. In many cases, the workstation—especially if it is a dedicated one—conveys a sense of ownership for the office worker and is the object of more personalization, organization, and adjustment than even the ergonomic chair. Sigi Moeslinger and Masamichi Udagawa of New York-based design consultancy Antenna—designers of the Bloomberg Terminal, the new MTA Subway car, and the Jet Blue self-service ticketing kiosk—knew little more than this about office furniture when Benjamin Pardo, design director at Knoll, invited them to design a new system that would “untangle the furniture from the building systems.”

Udagawa and Moeslinger place particular emphasis on user interface—a design philosophy that they apply to all their work—and this was the defining quality that led Pardo to them. They were quite new to furniture design, and admit to being daunted initially by the complexity of the systems already on the market, including Knoll’s own offerings. Immediately, they sought to create something simple and flexible for this new generation of office furniture by drilling the product down to its essential bits. “We thought it should be in a different category,” says Moeslinger. “From the beginning we were determined that it not be a panel system.” The pair also struggled with the inherent strength—dictated by BIFMA standards—that is required of commercial furniture and how to realize those requirements in a product with a simple, minimalist aesthetic.

The project proceeded in fits and starts for a couple of years—once stopping altogether while both parties took time to regroup and reevaluate the end goal. When they came back to the design table, says Udagawa, he and Moeslinger had “the essential breakthrough” that had been eluding them.

“We started thinking about the structure of highway signs, where the horizontal rail is floating above the leg structure,” says Udagawa. “We focused on this connection between the legs and the horizontal rails,” thus finding the workable solution that would allow them to achieve their aesthetic goal of simplicity. The Antenna™ Workspaces system that resulted is defined by delicate legs with cantilevered surfaces that create a Modernist composition of floating planes and crisp detailing.

Thin, 1-in. square tube steel legs support worksurfaces of wood, laminate or glass. Structural integrity was still a big issue and has been resolved with a diamond-shaped steel rail the runs between each pair of legs and is attached to the top by a cast-aluminum cradle. The rail can connect one worksurface to another in a variety of configurations, ranging from the more standard desk with return to the increasingly popular benching configuration involving long expanses of worksurface. It also allows the legs to be positioned anywhere perpendicular to the length of the table—a solution that offers “a smaller number of components but a large number of planning alternatives,” says Pardo. Low fences containing power and data also can be used to support worksurfaces, shelves, storage cabinets, and other accessories. “Simplicity and flexibility are two main advantages,” adds Udagawa.

The materials palette also was opened to a broad range of possibilities, since the work surface serves no structural purpose. Once again based on their expertise in user interface, the designers steered clear of high-tech materials, instead developing a palette of more natural and tactile ones. “People spend a lot of time in the office,” says Udagawa. “We wanted to offer comfort—not with domestic materials, but with materials that make the environment softer and more comfortable.” Colors, shapes, materials, and structure are all very simple and allow for a layering, articulation of space, and expression of personality.

Moeslinger refers to the look of Antenna Workspaces as a “here I am” aesthetic; it chooses honesty over pretense or fuss and conveys a lightness that “feels very much of this time,” while also paying homage to the designs of Florence Knoll. “We both like Florence Knoll a lot,” says Udagawa, who, like Knoll, attended Cranbrook Academy. “We tried to tap into the optimistic feeling of her time.”