Space and Time: Modeling the Studio of the Future

This essay is part of “Defining the Studio of 2015,” an initiative by AIGA and Adobe that seeks the insights of visionary design thought leaders who are poised for the future. In this series, these leaders share an inside look at their plans, predictions and aspirations for the studio of 2015 and beyond. 

In the design field in particular, the last twenty years of workspace planning has seen some concerted developments reflective of a fundamental shift in our work culture, away from social-spatial hierarchies and toward activity-based spatial hierarchies. We’ve seen a move away from the low rise, cubicle filled office, toward open plan offices with flexible and continuous workspaces. We’ve witnessed the protracted demise of the private office, and the movement of the remaining private spaces towards the center of the layout, in order to provide the shared spaces access to views and daylight. And yet these changes, while reflective of a larger cultural shift toward collaboration, don’t fully account for the way we at Second Story Interactive Studios currently work, or our studio’s needs for the future. For “Defining the Studio of 2015,” we’ve envisioned an ideal hybrid studio space—with a laboratory at its core.

Jackson Pollock once said, “The modern artist is working with space and time, and expressing his feelings rather than illustrating.” In defining the studio of the future, one cannot consider space without considering time. As designers of experiences, we at Second Story must examine not only how space reflects the division of labor within our multidisciplinary team, but also how our individual workdays are divided into discrete chunks of time based on specific creative needs, tasks and responsibilities.

Good workplace architecture always reflects the Zeitgeist, and ours is the era of the hybrid. A uniform and homogeneous architectural solution to the creative design studio workspace no longer accommodates the astonishing variety of activities involved in the contemporary creative process. As our studio approaches 2015, we need a hybrid space.

Second Story’s activities can be divided into three basic categories: introspective, team-based and experimental/experiential. It is this last type of activity that is not adequately addressed in contemporary design office architecture, and yet the experimental and the experiential are at the very heart of being an innovation center pioneering new interactive experiences and storytelling. For the studio of the future, we propose an ideal hybrid space with a laboratory at its core.

But before we get to the lab, let’s take a closer look at these three categories of activity, and think about each of them individually in relation to our activities and creative needs:


Designers, developers and engineers perform many tasks that require extended focus, and a space that exposes them to constant interruption kills productivity and quality. A major failing of the open office is the degree to which it limits privacy and quiet. An introspective workspace facilitates individual production, consumption of media, tinkering and contemplation by offering a quiet, private and isolated environment. A space that is small in scale; that accommodates whatever digital and manual tools an individual prefers; that has good light, views and a door supports this kind of activity best. (Fig. I) 


A team-based workspace is something with which most workers in a contemporary design studio are familiar. This usually takes the form of an uninterrupted open plan, punctuated by enclosed or semi-enclosed meeting spaces. To support the collaborative work that occurs within them, these spaces must have access to light, as well as copious amounts of flexible office fixturing: big and small tables, pin-up walls, digital presentation tools and access to digital services for personal devices. If properly conceived, this is where collaboration around specific projects happens best. (Fig. II) 


The experimental/experiential workspace for design is something relatively new, or at least recently rediscovered, yet it will play a vital role in the studio of 2015. As designers of experiences, we at Second Story need ways to mock up, prototype and demonstrate our ideas at scale, and the space that would best supports these activities is a laboratory, as well as a performative, theatrical space. Ideally, this space would utilize the building section (verticality) to add flexibility to the lab system overhead, while underfoot flyways and plenums would add adaptability. (Fig. III) 

The Second Story laboratory: envisioning a hybrid space

How should we arrange our studio to best support these three distinct but interrelated types of activities? Second Story is, at its most basic level, an innovation center. Innovation comes from a boisterous and often unpredictable overlapping of these three different types of activities. This mixing can only occur in spaces designed to support it.

Our proposed lab takes the form of a soundstage that can be infinitely reconfigured using an erector set–style kit of parts to simulate environments, hardware systems, etc. The Second Story Lab is an idea and a space—one that explores the use of technology for innovative, interactive storytelling. The lab is an incubator for new ideas and projects that have the potential to create new ways of thinking about media, technology and architecture, and to create new business opportunities around this type of production.

If the lab is considered the heart of our activities—the place where we generate our ideas, where we congregate to test them, where we bring clients and potential clients to show and talk about our work—it is reasonable to think that the space should take the form of a large volume that occupies the center of the building (Fig. IV). The need for lighting flexibility further supports this goal: the space should be daylit from the top, via a system of controllable apertures.

Looking next at the opposite end of the spectrum, the spaces needed for introspective work, we see a natural pull to the perimeter of the building. This position provides these spaces—we call them introspective volumes—with light and views, as well as privacy. It also positions them so that each space has a view to the center, to the lab and its activities, as well as to the other private spaces (Fig. V).

What about the spaces between the individual cells and the collaborative hub? In our formulation, these spaces become a buffer. They are where the cross-pollination between activities happens—between the private, introspective space and the lab, or between two private spaces (Fig. VI).

Educating ourselves, the design community and our clients

As we look toward to future, we must also think about the public face of our studio. If the radial organization we have proposed is to be both supportive and illustrative of our working methods, then we need a way to demonstrate that simply, visually and effectively to the outside world. So we take a section of the building, and we make it a stage to encourage shared learning within the studio, the outside design community as well as our clients. This space becomes the social hub of the building—directly connected to all of the spaces from core to periphery, and yet with its own distinct character. This is the place to take a pause and observe and learn rather than participate (Fig. VII).

Defining the studio of 2015

For Second Story, the studio of the future is about creating a spatial organization that reflects and supports our way of working. Centered around a lab, our proposed hybrid space is designed to encourage a fundamentally collaborative and team-based process—but not at the expense of the individual (Fig. VIII). It is at once oriented internally—looking inward toward team spaces, and to the theatrical space of the lab—and externally—looking out to the world from private spaces, letting in light, slicing away a section of the studio to show how it works. As we move toward 2015, we will require spaces calibrated to respond to the way a day is divided for a creative individual and for our collaborative team as a whole.

Andrew DeVigal and Thomas Wester (both of Second Story) contributed to this article.