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How R/GA is designing the office of the future

Walk around R/GA's (formerly R/Greenberg Associates) New York office and it's tough not to be wooed by the tech running the show. Despite this, however, the environment is decidedly democratic rather than technocratic. Spread across the 11th and 12th floors of 450 West 33rd Street, R/GA's New York HQ sits within 200,000 square feet of office space. The term "office space" is more appropriate than "offices" because the latter implies a series of segmented workplace zones, typically walled or cordoned. With R/GA, office furniture has wheels to move around the open plan found on the 12th floor, which is also the entry level. "I didn't see any difference between an architecture firm and a law firm," said founder and CEO of R/GA Bob Greenberg, speaking in a Gary Hustwit-made documentary about his firm. He wanted to create an environment "where the digital landscape would integrate with physical space." And now Greenberg has 450 West 33rd Street: a former brutalist block, designed by Davis Brody Bond in 1969 that has been re-skinned by Joshua Prince-Ramus (REX) and gutted on R/GA's two floors by Foster + Partners. On the 12th floor, conference "rooms" have no walls. Instead, they're round tables (with wheels, of course) wired up to hidden power outlets and surrounded by high chairs. Zones are denoted by color, letters, and numbers. It feels a bit like moving around an airport, though Greenberg's collection of art, transit, and technological nostalgia make useful wayfinding devices. Screens display product and marketing information and welcome messages for visitors. Everything is modular—even the floor can be taken up. The system works through a Unistrut canopy from which all manner of devices—such as the aforementioned sensors—hang from. The blockbuster feature, however, is that everything can be controlled by an app. Conference "rooms" can be booked, lights changed, art can be identified (just point your camera at it), and audio of the video being played on screens can be easily accessed. A geolocation service—using sensors dotted around the space—also runs at a granular scale to aid navigation. R/GA's aim is for a fluid, versatile and connected environment. Though still being refined, they developed this beta office model for themselves and deliver it as a tailored product primed for startups. In fact, R/GA supplies a tech-based incubator for blossoming firms looking for guidance, direction and of course, funding. Daniel Diez is R/GA's executive vice president and global chief marketing officer. He works closely with managing directors and senior leadership across all R/GA offices, leading marketing and communications strategies and thus he has a hand in all R/GA's projects. Diez will be speaking about R/GA's work at The Architect's Newspaper's upcoming Tech+ conference. The event will be at Metropolitan West on 639 West 46th Street in Manhattan on May 23. To register and find out more, visit techplusexpo.com.