MIT and Google give the cubicle a radical, shape-shifting redesign

September 30, 2016 Sanjana Saluja

The work pods might be the cubicle of future workplace. But unlike a traditional cubicle, these pods can reconfigure the existing open-plan office into a private space with enough room for a range of uses. Fast Company explores how MIT and Google are collaborating to create the self-assembling architecture of the future.

Once heralded as an ingenious design strategy for saving money and fostering collaboration, the open-plan office has fallen from grace. It's increasingly viewed by employees as a stressful, noisy nuisance, but with real estate prices soaring, it's not an easy trend for many companies to reverse.That's why some of the best solutions have been small-scale interventions that reconfigure existing open-plan spaces to fit employees' needs in the moment.

But ask Skylar Tibbits to design a reconfigurable space for your open office and you're going to get a whole different animal. That's what happened after Drew Wenzel, a civil and environmental engineer who is part of the campus development team at Google, met Tibbits and started collaborating with him earlier this year.

Tibbits is the co-director of MIT's Self-Assembly Lab along with Jared Laucks, where they and a team of researchers work to develop textiles and materials that can be "programmed" to self-construct. Their past work has taken the form of wood that is 3D printed with a particular grain pattern that causes it to transform into specific objects and even furniture when wet, as well as shoes that can be made without human or machine aid, thanks to 3D-printed textiles.

The lab's latest project brings its wild material experimentation to the everyday office: a wooden pod that lowers down from the ceiling and expands into a temporary work space. Born out of a conversation Tibbits had with Wenzel and others at Google, the transformable workspace offers a real-world application of the lab's future-focused work.

Read more on this interesting way to reconfigure existing offices into more flexible spaces here.

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