Waterfalls? Interactive art? This is not your typical digital receptionist

Tokyo – For some time now, the internet and iCloud have allowed us to retrieve information on demand, virtually eliminating the need for paper. Today’s advanced digital technologies go even further: what we think of as ‘fixed interiors’ can become spaces that change in response to human movement. TeamLab, an artist collective of digital technologists, has proved that interactive art can arouse a feeling of joy. The next step was to design a responsive workplace environment.

It’s no secret that technology-driven companies are keeping their hard-working employees happy with mind-blowing workplaces, but the office is also a place for meetings that sometimes include external visitors. It’s crucial to convey an image to ‘outsiders’ that reflects the corporate image. The desire to do so is comparable to the care that brands invest in their shop windows. It also explains TeamLab’s approach to the office it designed for digital-content provider DMM.com: a working environment that expresses the Japanese company’s identity.

Among DMM.com’s products are online streaming services and VR experiences. The progressive firm engages the people who use its services. TeamLab’s interactive digital art was and is ideal for a dynamic office environment that strives to make an unforgettable impression on visitors.

DMM.com occupies five floors of a building. Access to the 23rd, 25th, 26th and 27th floors is for employees only. Reception, on the 24th floor, is a gallery-like space surrounded by transparent walls that feature digitally programmed images of waterfalls; when a visitor reaches the door to an adjacent corridor, a motion sensor causes the waterfall to part like a curtain.

Described as ‘an office where animals live’, the 24th floor is a veritable jungle filled with 256 live species of flora, from banyan trees to supatifiramu flowers. Complementing the natural plantings are projections of digital animals and flowers. Walls that appear to be unmarked – no signage or graphics – morph into images of 26 different animals as visitors pass by. Anteater, bear, jaguar, zebra and friends act as guides to 26 meeting rooms, designated from A to Z. Only upon arriving do you set off a display of information that assures you of your destination. The digital content of TeamLab’s works of art can be changed as desired, even though the spatial layout remains the same.

The office opened in March of 2017, and response from both staff and visitors has been positive. One DMM manager uses a metaphor: ‘You’re impressed when you come across an incredibly beautiful person. By the time you’ve met her five times, you’re more of less used to her looks, even though you still know she’s beautiful. We’ve been in this office for several months now, and we’re used to our surroundings, but their attractiveness has not changed.’

On the 27th floor, a sinuous 1,000-m-long table meanders through the 3,000-sq-m space like a river through a landscape. The creative division, with its staff of 700, uses the table instead of conventional workstations arranged in a grid and separated by aisles. The elongated table generates a single pathway that’s used by employees passing one another on the way to the loo or the coffee machine. Shogo Kawata, chief architect at TeamLab and the designer of the scheme, has this to say: ‘The more staff, the more difficult it becomes to communicate with everyone, reducing the overall sense of cooperation. Sharing a single desk makes people feel as if they’re working together, even when the “desk” is a table with 700 seats. Its sinuous design causes people to sit across from each other diagonally, providing each person with enough space for privacy and, at the same time, prompting the kind of conversation prevented by an ordinary arrangement of desks, where you need to turn around to talk to the person sitting behind you.’

Where does he think the future of office design is heading? Will artificial intelligence take over all human jobs? ‘Certain jobs will probably disappear. In the future, human input will be about creativity and originality. We at TeamLab see digital technology as an igniter of creativity that should be treated something like a material – like wood, metal and glass are treated in architecture. We can use technology to control the “time” needed to change people’s perception of space.’

This case study was originally featured in St-W 119

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