THE WORKING ENVIRONMENT of tomorrow can be glimpsed in Herman Miller’s recently completed showroom at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago–and it’s a far cry from the boxy, cramped, ineptly furnished cubicles found in many offices today. Instead, shimmering screens tethered to steel poles cleave the room’s wide-open spaces into honeycomb-shaped cells, furnished with workstations that future inhabitants can easily reconfigure. This is the company’s new Resolve system, and the showroom was designed to accommodate it. “Everything is so integrated,” says Rick Duffy, vice-president of Herman Miller’s Genesis design team, “that it’s hard to separate our product from the architecture of the space.”
Like the company’s furniture, the showroom is sleek, inventive, flexible, and multifunctional. Slim floor-to-ceiling glass panes form the zigzagging picture window that divides the showroom from the Mart’s prosaic hallway. As Mark Sexton, principal at Krueck & Sexton Architects and the job’s project architect, says, “It’s completely clear and doesn’t distort the furniture, yet it manipulates light and color to add a sense of activity and energy to the space.”
Alongside this wall are a built-in freestanding reception desk, clusters of Herman Miller furniture–including celebrated Eames pieces as well as the Resolve system–and a gleaming, spacious kitchen for use by employees and customers. The area is backed by another riveting expanse of glass, a series of partitions that nearly span the showroom’s 200-foot width. These walls, each made of three large panels of etched glass shingled together with pins and posts of stainless steel, enclose four conference rooms that occupy the showroom’s middle zone. Inside, the ceilings are equipped with recessed colored lights that wash the glass walls in subtle, shifting hues.
Beyond the conference rooms is a third area, open except for support columns, which makes up half of the showroom’s total square footage. Here, the company shows its contract and residential offerings. A three-dimensional geometric grid clings to the ceiling; edged at the bottom with soft curves, it resembles an undulating sea. Along two exterior walls, the Mart’s old-fashioned casement windows are equipped with translucent floor-to-ceiling pivoting glass panels which, like giant Levelor blinds, can be adjusted to modify the amount and angle of incoming natural light.
In addition to the arresting use of glass to orchestrate space, Krueck & Sexton’s innovations include the showroom’s lighting system; in the conference area and beyond, it employs colored lenses, bulbs, and gels, and can be programmed to change hues at various rates throughout the day. In another notable move, the architects constructed the space largely with recycled materials, a nod to the company’s modus operandi regarding its furniture, which incorporate recycled and “green” materials whenever possible.
Despite such bravura flourishes, the showroom is, ultimately, utilitarian–the perfect venue to present what Duffy describes as “our vision of what the future holds.”
Lisa Skolnik’s recent books include Retro Modern (Friedman Fairfax, 2000) and The Right Light (Rockport Publishers, 2000). Her feature on the Chicago restaurant Mod appeared in the August 2000 Interiors.
SUSAN HALAS I Universal Studios Director of Design and Planning, Global Real Estate
As a furniture buyer, how effective do you think the showroom really is? I have 12 million square feet of space to manage in virtually every region of the world, so I’m always trying to find multifunctional office products that I can use globally. This showroom really lets you see how their furniture can do that.
How so? They stage many different functions there, and for each one the space seems to be so perfectly tailored to the event it’s as if they created it just for that particular presentation or party. But they didn’t, and in fact don’t really change the space at all–it takes on different characteristics by virtue of its lighting and the way the furniture is organized. Yet it always seems to remain a viable working environment.
And that’s your bottom line? Realistically, yes. Their product line is full of workplace solutions, and the showroom allows the company to reveal how their furniture can be used in almost any context.