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NEOCON 23 spotlight is on 'Responsive furnishings.' (National Exposition of Interior Contract Furnishings)(part 1; includes related articles) (column)


The word is out. Look for kinder, gentler, more humane offices in the future. But all those adjectives apply only to the furnishings. This new |responsive' office environment is not for the timid. No one will be sitting quietly at a desk. Workers will rise up to stand at their computers, shove furniture around when it's time for team interaction, hitch up workspace extensions and privacy screens when it's not, then swoop them all away at the plunge of a lever. And the worktop won't stand idle either. You'll see it tilting back and forth, moving up and down and sideways, separating and congregating, bifurcating and conjugating...

Humanizing the workplace

At NEOCON 22 last year, the office furniture industry demonstrated its concern for the workers' psychological comfort. Partitions in panel systems were lowered to stimulate interaction. Personalization of individual workspace was not only allowed, it was encouraged.

This June, some 30,000 attendees at NEOCON 23 in Chicago were ushered into an age of sensitivity to the office worker's physical comfort and an awareness of medical liability if that comfort is not attended to. "We recognize an increasing need for facilities to respond to the people who work there," said Susan Brondyke, marketing product manager at Herman Miller. "A humane and responsive work environment is one of the tools companies can use to keep skilled, qualified employees."

A responsive work environment also can keep employees from filing liability claims for stress-related physical disorders, which are receiving a good deal of press these days. (See sidebar page 46.) The subject of ergonomics may not come up for regular discussion at the coffee machine, but it is certain to be acknowledged when medical complaints, absenteeism and compensation costs are reviewed.

Adjusting for the individual

What is vital in office ergonomics, 1991-style, is adjustability. New chairs and keyboard trays that allow maximum flexibility in positioning are available in great numbers, as expected. But noteworthy developments in adjustable worktops also were spotlighted at NEOCON 23, including: Haworth's Trakker, Herman Miller's Relay, Precision's Ergodata and the PowerDesk from Metamorphosis Design and Development, in the young Atlanta company's NEOCON debut.

Haworth developed the Trakker to respond to the human body's need to change positions, according to J. Craig Speck, vice president of product marketing, design and engineering. The Trakker, which won a Best of NEOCON award for computer-support furniture, is an adjustable table with a memory and can be programmed to the user's most comfortable position. The table electromechanically adjusts from sitting to standing heights. It also "tracks" the amount of time spent working in a certain position and alerts the user when it is time to adjust positions.

"The proper positioning of computer monitors and keyboards and periodic changing of work positions can help alleviate the back, neck and wrist pain that often accompanies intensive computer use," Speck said. Dual work surfaces are infinitely adjustable from 26 inches to 42 inches. A sequencing program can set the table for 19 different heights at regular intervals to accommodate 19 different workers using the table during a 24-hour period.

Herman Miller's "high-performance" Relay desk easily adjusts from sitting height to standing height with a lever. The split top has a separate adjustable tilt for the back half, allowing it to be folded flat for added work or conference space or to be tilted up for displaying documents, drawings, etc.

Precision Mfg's Ergodata work surface is user adjustable from 26 inches to 30 inches and can tilt up to 11 degrees in either direction to accommodate different employee heights and right- or left-handedness. Cable management and duplex outlets are within arm's reach at surface level.

Replacing the flat desktop

Standard work surfaces, regardless of style, share one common trait - a non-user supportive, flat surface, said Wayne Parker of Metamorphosis. The company's PowerStation has a tilted work level with a cut-out user pocket that properly supports forearms and wrists while allowing full use of the work surface. It is available as a freestanding unit or may replace old desktops, providing raceway functions with six circuits and power surge protection. A wrap-around upper level has space for books, telephone and other accessories.

Edwin Lochridge designed the 42-inch and 48-inch PowerStation corner unit that can be retrofitted to any panel system to add ergonomic functions to workstations. It was a Best of NEOCON winner in the systems, new components and enhancements category.

Allsteel's entry in the humane department, Aurora, was named Best of Show and a winner in furniture systems in The Best of NEOCON 1991 Competition. It is characterized by smooth rounded edges that are inviting to the touch and easy on the body. Curves continue from panel sides to drawer pulls. Work surfaces are bullnosed, with a special molded polyurethane edge for which the process is being patented.

Otto Zapf said he designed Aurora as a new open-plan system with the idea that the office environment could be as "comfortable, functional and pretty as the interior of a yacht."

Breaking out of |the box'

To the office manager whose vocabulary embraces the 1990s' buzz words: interaction, interpersonal communication, communal workspace, shared tasks, shared knowledge and teamwork, the isolated worker enclosed within a panel-based system is an anachronism. "No one should have to work alone in a box," said one facilities designer.

Gordon Allison, marketing director for Precision Mfg. Inc., said freestanding systems are expected to be strong sellers in the '90s because of the increased emphasis on teamwork.

"There is definitely a trend away from panel systems," said Del Birch, CorryHiebert's new marketing manager. "Free-standing furniture is more flexible and cost competitive than panel systems."


Tom Reardon, research and information manager for the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Assn., said staff have a word for what is happening in the standoff between systems and freestanding office furniture - desking. The term isn't exactly rolling off manufacturers' tongues, but BIFMA is including desking as a category for statistical purposes. "We are incorporating it under systems, but not panel systems," Reardon said.

In panel-based systems furniture, an upright panel is the weight-supporting member for worktops and storage components. Desking refers to an integrated system where the desk is the load-bearing member for supporting shelves, privacy screens and storage components, a la the Steelcase Context line, introduced last year. Desks and worktop extensions can be interlocked to form stations.

Using the term desking doesn't change the product, Reardon added, only the reference. He said this style/category is popular in Europe and was predominant at Orgatech, the European counterpart to NEOCON, in Cologne, Germany, last year.

Desk-based systems

Environments 20/20 by CorryHiebert, a division of HON Industries, is a freestanding desk-based system with privacy screens mounted to the desk or the return. The screens are easily attached without tools. Overhead storage units are supported by the screens and also mount easily. Other storage options include mobile pedestals and lateral files.

Precision's Ergodata has stackable, acoustic privacy panels mounted to desks. Each privacy panel includes an opening for ventilation and a space-saving accessory bar for phones, snap-on letter trays, organizers and task lights. By mounting a flipper door cabinet onto a worktable, a credenza is created. Freestanding pedestals fit under work surfaces.

System One Cube desk components by Haskell of Pittsburgh Inc. can be used as freestanding units or in an infinite variety of workstation configurations. They include double and single pedestal desks, returns, U-bridges, corner desks, oversurface storage units and P- and D-shape peninsulas. Desk mounted privacy screens are for seated or standing heights.

Herman Miller's Relay is yet another group of freestanding pieces meant to be easily adapted for group or individual applications, to blend without matching exactly and to be "docked" together rather than connected. Relay furniture allows flexibility at individual, group and facility levels. Users can raise and lower tabletops, pull up teardrop tables for more work space, rearrange shelves and drawers and adjust for privacy by using folding screens in three heights. Work organizers and shelves clamp to any desk, table or credenza.

PHOTO : A new twist from hard edge to a softer feeling characterizes the Aurora office system from Allsteel, below, a Best of NEOCON winner. Its patented wire management system channels all wiring out of sight. The signature multiple radii of the Allsteel Aurora system, left, are both visually and physically comforting, said designer Otto Zapf.

PHOTO : A striking combination of honey-colored ash and black laminate are among the finish options for Steelcase's Elective Elements systems furniture.

PHOTO : The Trakker table introduced by Haworth Inc. is the first completely programmable table for computer users. Its use is said to combat repetitive stress injuries associated with extensive computer use.

PHOTO : Environments 20/20 by CorryHiebert is a freestanding desk-based system with privacy screens mounted to the desk or the return.

PHOTO : Herman Miller's Relay group allows flexibility at individual, group and facility levels. Interchangeable pieces include double pedestal desk, bookcase, work shelf, and open work organizer.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Garet, Barbara
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Article Type:column
Date:Aug 1, 1991
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