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Keep In Touch, And Keep Your Space


Annual Design Awards: FURNITURE-GOLD

KEEP IN TOUCH, AND KEEP YOUR SPACE

Nice Conestoga you've got there. Dave Lathrop, Steelcase Inc. project leader, compares the company's Personal Harbor Workspace to the wagons that trekked across the West to California and Oregon a hundred-plus years ago. Each individual Conestoga in the wagon train provided privacy for a family, but at night the wagons would encircle the campsite, allowing the families to team up for protection while they ate and rested. So, too, does the Personal Harbor act as an individual workstation that surrounds and supports a common area, this time for work.

It's a good analogy, except this is no ordinary wagon train. The Personal Harbor brims with cutting-edge design ideas. When closed, its sliding curved door with frosted-glass windows, gives complete visual, acoustical, and territorial privacy. It contains 48 square feet, is 78 inches high, and comes with a partial ceiling. Two work surfaces, one stationary and the other mobile, are the focal points of the space. A tower of shelves provides additional book and binder storage.

To keep clutter off the work surfaces, the telephone, shelves, drawers, and fingertip filing system are vertically stacked in what is aptly called a totem. A control panel lets the individual employee adjust lighting and ventilation. The unit has a special ledge for accessories such as pens, paper clips, and coffee cups, and one part of the wall is a floor-to-ceiling marker board. Optional: an audio package that includes a CD player with wireless headset. The price, depending on options, is $5,000 to $7,000 per unit, a bit higher than competing prefab workspaces.

The space in front of the Personal Harbors, quaintly called the front porch, allows workers to expand their individual activities--temporarily or long term--by using carts, mobile tables, guest chairs, cabinets, or screens.

The designers at Steelcase, based in Grand Rapids, won a Gold Award not just for Personal Harbor's aesthetics, but for the way the product accommodates the changes in the way people work. Teams are becoming a mainstay of the work environment, and a group of Personal Harbors, combined with a common area including a large table and chairs, easily lets people think together or alone. Steelcase designers say workers can create the environment that works for them.

Lisa Smith of SmithChororos, a New York product designer and a judge in the competition, says the workstation "serves the office in a beautiful way. People can work in a group or go off into personal space."

Designers spent four years researching the changing nature of office work and building models before developing the product. Steelcase boasts that one customer--Hybritech Inc., a San Diego biotechnology firm--cut the time it takes to bring a new product to market from 14 to 4 months after its engineers started working in Personal Harbors. Who said you can't build a better wagon train? By Marti Benedetti in Detroit


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