I met Jennifer Magnolfi a few years ago, and she joined me in the New York stop of the Future Of Work Tour in 2010. We’ve stayed in touch, and I wanted to catch up on the application of her research, working with Tony Hsieh of Zappos, on his new headquarters design.
About Jennifer Magnolfi
Jennifer Magnolfi is a pioneer in the disruptive field of ‘programmable environments’, where the physical environment is instrumented to make it more productive, sustainable, and more integrated with digital artifacts of business. Her applied research work explores coworking and co-creation, the technologies and practices that support workspaces for innovation, collaboration and community development. In 2012, she teamed up with Zappos.com CEO Tony Hsieh to support the company’s new headquarters redesign. She also lead the effort to accelerate the emergence of coworking communities for Downtown Project LLC, a real estate and investment fund sponsored by Hsieh, and driving the current revitalization of Downtown Las Vegas. Jennifer is co-author of ‘Always Building: the Programmable Environment’, published by Herman Miller in 2008, where she was a lead architect. Among her other accolades and honors, Jennifer was selected by Fast Company as one of the innovators in their Generation Change project. She received a Masters Degree in Architecture from the Harvard School of Design.
Stowe Boyd: Is modern office redesign and rethinking the workspace still the primary focus of your work?
“We are able to work in many physical environments now. What transforms them into workspaces is the fact that we are connected to our work-related data, and more importantly, that we get into the “zone of work,” that cognitive state that allows us to function for work-related purposes, to work productively and effectively.”
Jennifer Magnolfi: In broad terms, yes. The ability of space to shape as well as support certain kinds of behaviors and human interactions is at the heart of what I’m interested in. I believe that the built environment is both a reflection and an enabler of human endeavor. And I think of technology in space as a design medium, a sort of material. It introduces a set of properties that previously weren’t possible – changing interactions by the user with other users through architecture or by the user with other users through digital space, etc.
When we spoke at the end of 2011, I was embarking on research around co-working, which I see as an ‘edge condition’ in the field of corporate real estate.
The world of coworking is a very vibrant community and to a certain degree it has ushered a new culture of work. Although it remains relatively small in size, it has had significant impact. When I first became interested in it a few years ago, it was more of an edge. Now I hear from corporate real estate executives who are asking questions about how to implement coworking, and how to incorporate related design principles in their real estate portfolios. I think of the cumulative effect of this with other macro economic factors are manifesting a “structural shift” in the world of work.