History of workPODs
1990 - 2009
Building a “Room Within a Room”
within a Landscape
part one of two parts
go to [#] for additional comments and links
The MG Taylor - AI POD concept was first put down on paper by me in 1991 for the Capital Holding Agency Group Home Office project [1]. We never did implement this layout even though we did build their NavCenter on the first floor of the same building. We continued to refine the idea and built the first group of PODs for a Kellogg’s field office in 1997. We have built four different POD designs in the decade which followed the Kellogg’s project and three of them are still in production. In 2007-2008 we completed prototyping our 5th design [2], the mediaPOD.
During this period, the big three of the US office furniture industry have launched various POD projects none of which have become broadly employed [3]. Why this is so can only be speculation yet, I suspect, it is because their approach is the exact opposite to what will be described in the following paragraphs. The POD is not an easy environment to make work yet it remains appealing for a variety of reasons which I will explicate in this article. As a product, the POD is an interesting and demanding design challenge. To accomplish a worthy result which can be manufactured for a price the market will pay presents a further challenge. And, once having done this, then selling them to through the corporate purchasing paradigm has been, up to recent times, a further hurtle [4].
Beyond all of these pragmatic considerations is the fact that the POD is “a room within a room” [5] and there are a number of Pattern language [6] values which can be achieved this way as a natural consequence of this fact. The degree of prospect and refuge, interaction and inclusion-exclusion can be modulated by degrees as desired. Sound, light and sight can be amplified or attenuated as required. Multiple functions is a single open space can be carried on with just the right degree of user-controlled, minute-by-minute adjustable mutual engagement [7].
Along with the Armature, cube-office system and WorkWalls, the PODs are an essential component of the AI fabricated “kit of parts” that makes possible an adaptive, rich, high variety architectural language which is fit for many different situations yet always capable of producing an unique locally relevant environment [8].
This article will review the history of the POD, our development and use of PODS, my personal use [9] and indicate likely future developments. It is just the beginning, I think, for the POD. Our use of them has enjoyed a slow steady increase over a decade and a half. On this line of development, the POD units will ultimately become actual buildings in larger complexes - the same “room within a room” pattern at a larger scale of recursion. The present generation of PODs, like mediaPOD, leads naturally to EcoSphere [10], Snowflake [11] and the Greenery Project [12]. “Indoor” PODs will increasing become functional elements in offices such at the Dan Newman Office in Rome [13], the eSpaces concept [14], and major RDS projects such as the RDSx project [15].
The most important aspect of PODs is that they offer the user the ability to forge a personal and unique workplace with generous utility and artistic potential. They are the exact opposite of the Dilbert cubicle. The standard office “landscape” is no place for a human [16]. It does not support knowledge work [17] and it is not - contrary to myth - efficient. It is not healthy [18]. A landscape of PODs can be a cybernetic forest [19] and nothing less than this is acceptable however it may be accomplished. I will argue that the POD concept offers one of the better ways to accomplish a truly adaptable and human workplace for the 21st century.
click on the images throughout this text to go to more detail about each project
t h e
l a n d s c a p e
My concept of the POD actually goes back a couple of decades but it was not until the early 1990s that we had both the capacity and the potential market to begin serious development of the idea. My drawing for The Capital Holding Agency Group home office, in Louisville, was the first articulation of the Armature, Cube Office and POD systems in an interior landscape fully developing my design for the Lee Wald Offices built in 1975 in Kansas City [20].
When this was drawn, we had built six NavCenters (we called them Management Centers then) and two more were in the development stage. We had limited production capability. The first full scale RDS [21] was still five years away and the first built POD came two years after that. It would be nearly a decade before we were to have our own shop which provided us the rapid prototyping ability we have today.
This drawing captured the entire idea from the 1980 Boulder Affordable Housing project [22] (see below) to the projects now on the drawing boards to be realized by the end of the first decade of the 21st Century [23]. This drawing was a 1/3 way-point along the path of what will compose a 30 year development cycle. When mature, we will have achieved - in the work environment - what Wright, Schindler and Fuller did, with limited production, in domestic housing in the 20s, 30s and 40s [24]. The relevant Pattern Language values - over a hundred of them - of Christopher Alexander are realized, at medium cost, out of a kit of parts. I often refer to this office landscape concept as the “Usonian Workplace” [25] as it, in the way which we build it, reflects the spirit and sensibility of this architecture.
The design principles reflected in this drawing are:

100% utilization of space - no hallways, instead a series of functional hi-ways, roads and paths which weave through the landscape acting as connectors while providing multiple ways of access depending on the use of the moment. Tools, books, files, resources and information kiosks are positioned along this path. You “know” what is going on in the community just by walking to your personal environment.

The “negative” space “left over” from the formal geometry becomes, areas for planting, specialized work niches, seating, informal meeting spaces, guest work areas, tools sets and so on.

These two principles provided a greater density than the standard layout while offering more open spaces and group work areas “for free.”

Communities of work teams in project related clusters with commons space for collaboration and private PODs for individual and small meeting work.

Adjustable collaborative work area, large enough for the entire community also capable of subdividing for work teams.

A district with a perceivable brand and set of boundaries yet sensible as part of a larger whole.

An Armature system to create space niches, carry wires, provide lighting and dockage for moveable components.

All components capable of assembly and reconfiguration by users without specialized knowledge or tools. Major portions of the space and components re configurable by rolling and swinging in “seconds” without disassembling.

The modular, manufactured components capable of many different arrangements and capable of creating an “architectural” environment yet removable to another site preserving over 90 percent of the owners investment.

A well lit (with “natural” and human generated light) landscape of plants and interesting, stimulating objects in which the participants move and work in hunter-gatherer mode - they are surrounded by an example of the act of making made up of artifacts generated by their making activities. Idea, thing and meaning merge as a place in which ideas are created. The use of the term “landscape” is not meant as a metaphor.

The CEO loved the concept but the architect, and corporate project manager grasping the threat managed to put him and a thousand others safely back into the box. The objections of the architect was that my concept was not “democratic.” Everyone was to get the same open office workspace (including the CEO), no matter the requirements of their work nor their style of working, and it was all to be furnished the same with each person getting a two foot square tack board for “personal expression.” Since I was facilitating the organization through a multi-year organizational transformation process [26], I was astounded by this definition of democracy as it was being applied to a group of people I had worked with for years and knew well. I was equally bemused by the fact that the architects did not seem to think that this organizational transformation had any relevance to their work. They just wanted to know who was going to sit next to whom and thy wanted to know it nearly three years before the building would be occupied [27]. I had conducted a session which started out asking the future occupants to describe how they worked and what they wanted in an environment [28]. They then were asked to look at the drawings and they rejected the architect’s work in total. Even the architect’s field team agreed that the design did not meet their requirements and desires now - let alone in the near future. Unfortunately the working drawings were finished; the architect’s original interview process had identified the company they were well over a year before - not the one they were becoming. In addition, I believe the home office objected to the “purity” of their design being disturbed by the messy organics: things that moved and could be reconfigured by the users, individual choice of materials and colors - and wood! Round things in a square building?! This was never said but you could feel the objection [28]. The inside project manager, who worked for the holding company, and was immune from the desires of the CEO, had more pragmatic concerns. He had a contract with one of the big three US furniture companies and the order had to be put in one year before the building broke ground in order to make the install deadline and cost structure [29]. If the plans changed, the architect was to be paid 100,000 dollars a floor to redo the layout. This is what you call “lock-in.” [30] I did do the NavCenter on the first floor which was flexible and well received with many choosing to work in it rarely gong to their office “place” [31]. The drawing hangs next to my personal drawing board to this day - a reminder. Liberating the work environment was still a task before us.
In the mid 90s we did two DesignShops® for Vanguard to radically reduce their “time to market” for new products [32]. They were successful so Vanguard had me back for a week to plan a NavCenter for innovation and product development. Nothing came of it and I do know know why. This schematic layout (below) was the first full service, fully functional NavCenter ever put on paper [33]. Each of the five light blue circles were to be project team areas. Each would have eight PODs for permanent (for the project) team members. The tan PODs shown were for experts who would relocate their POD to the various teams, as required, depending on the phase of work the project was in. The red circles were fixed resource areas. This NavCenter was designed to be a true “knowledge factory” and an environment of this scope remains un built to this day. The way that the VCBH NavCenter [34] is employed is the closest to this in use and total size although it does not yet have the full scope of functions proposed for this project.
This project was my first opportunity to design a fully functional NavCenter capable of supporting the entire creative process of an organization by robustly employing the full scope of the Taylor System and Method [35]. This Center would have employed the POD on a scale not proposed since simply because the opportunity has not presented itself even to this day. When an equal opportunity does emerge, the rotating POD design for Children’s Hospital [36] (see below) and finally built for UniCredit [37] (see below) is the kind best suited for an application of this scope and complexity. We were incapable of producing a POD of this sophistication in 1995.
In the late 90s Paul Lyons [38], a young designer of great talent, worked with me and Bill Blackburn [39] to design the first POD, which was built, and the Foundation II WorkFurniture system. I still work in one of these PODs, built in 1997, today [40]. The schematic drawing (below), from 1999, illustrates the basic “kit of parts” we now employ in the making of office landscapes. This “kit” has to be understood as a platform and a system not a specific design as the actual pieces themselves, and their layout, vary a great deal as is appropriate for each specific project. With this 1999 design concept, all of the conceptual elements from the 1990 design were put in place and all of them are now typically employed in our environments. It will be a twenty year development cycle by the time multiple mature expressions of this concept of the workplace is a standard option for the typical office and generally available to a large work population [41].
This schematic layout shows Armature, WorkWalls, PODS, CubeOffices [42] - it does not indicate elements such as planting, soft seating, support and tooling areas. The purpose here was just to show the major manufactured components of the system. All of the Pattern Language values usually stated on the scale of a community or a city are applied on the more intimate level of recursion of a workscape. The Operation (the 10 Step process [43], CyberCon [44], etc.) of the environment is also not indicated. The architectural concept cannot be understood without understanding the process and technology augmentation aspects of the System. Paul’s work included developing a complete set of drawings and computer models of the Foundation II Series [45]. We never built this series as a stand alone product line. Instead, we used the Foundation II concepts as our THERE and brought as much of “THERE to HERE,” [46] as possible, in a continuous improvement process conducted over the last eight years. We have not yet achieved the full eloquence of Paul’s design (which are extremely demanding in their production values and costly to execute) - we have moved a good way toward this goal while significantly reducing the cost of our product in comparison to the major producers of office systems [47].
The Children’s Hospital Executive Offices concept [48] was the first true LANDSCAPE of PODs. Three POD designs are indicated in this plan the principle one being the rotating POD we affectionately called “POD Maximus” at the time. This POD rotates a full 360 degrees and has three layers of translucent screening independent of the turntable. Its colored tranlucent top opens and closes. This way, the user can exacly conrol prospect and refuge, inclusion and exclusion. The idea of this POD is that it has four basic orientations that either the workstaion, the table for visitors or the “door” can face: the front yard, the side yards or back yard. The front yard typically opens to the commons and collaborative spaces. Side yards to other PODs where there is a strong work relationship (allowing POD to POD conversation) or to resources and tooling. The back yard is the POD user’s personal, private “zen view” space. As in the original concept, the “negative” spaces can be used for a variety of functions so that a complete utilization of the space is achieved. This design also featured multilevel floor heights, slopes and ramps so that various sections of the landscape had a distinct identity and viewpoint. The floor was to be heated and covered with tile - a Gaudian [49] touch with a serious purpose. The ceiling also was to be built at several different levels. The “flat earth” paradigm imposed by or architecture has to be challenged when one considers the neurological consequences of this design “policy.” [50] It is assumed that shapes, textures, the angle of viewpoints, distances and the filtering of views are all cognitively neutral and does not effect thinking. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no data supporting the conventional wisdom in this regard other than default ignorance [51].
This project died of exhaustion and the the honest clash of two different ways of seeing the world of architecture and construction [52]. Also, the budget was very constrained. We were able to meet it in terms of direct costs however not by including the external costs imposed by the project circumstances which accumulated to about 30 percent in addition to the cost of real work performed [53]. If this project had been proposed for an off campus site and not in a hospital building, both with their special requirements, this design - perhaps one of the most fundamentally radical challenges to the concept of the office yet [54] - would be built today. “POD Maximus” (we still do not have a name for it) had to wait three years for its debut in the UniCredit Project for Turin, Italy [55]. The landscape concept, in its full expression (UniCredit does have a significant real garden - a first!) still waits realization on the level intended for this project [56].
2003 continued
As we were developing the Children’s Hospital POD, we explored a number of applications for this design. One of the most interesting was as a greenhouse addition to an existing, conventional home with an AI WorkWall, furniture and POD in it [57]. We developed the concept for a developer looking for a specialty product to use to build a presence in a market. The thought was that for house in the two hundred thousand to two million range and up there would be a market. There are home entertainment systems, gourmet kitchens for this market yet little has been done with the home office which remains stuck in some left over (and usually small) bedroom [58]. The idea went no further than paper and pixels at the time yet it has raised its head a number of time since. It is clearly only a matter of time. This version of the concept was developed by Scott Arenz [59] from a concept that he, Matt Fulvio [60] and I dreamed up one evening in the Studio. The method of building the POD Greenhouse was to be the same as I used for swimming pools in the 60s. [61] To do this, however, would require a market that would support about 135 units a year [62].
This project was revived for the Stan Leopard Guest House and Studio project [63] but a change in program eliminated the option just I was about ready to build it. It remains an extremely viable concept and I expect it will find a buyer sometime soon. A great deal of interest was generated by the ideas just from the drawings. You have to put the landscaping (interior and exterior) into this picture to develop a proper sense of the setting. The picture of the POD in the UniCredit setting (below) provides a good sense of it.
The UniCredit Project has three three PODs, two Maximus and on PODPopulas (please not comments about the names - we are working on it). As an environment, the UniCredit space is the best setting for a POD we have built. The function of this NavCenter, however, does not require more than three PODs so the full landscape of PODs idea is not demonstrated. That said, in all other respects, the UniCredit NavCenter indicates the potential better than any other place we have created as of the end of 2007. This NavCenter, built in an historic 19th Century building now supplemented by an eloquent 21st Century steel and glass infrastructure, houses a wood truss Armature and landscape of WorkFurniture the size of a large house. These three periods of architecture [64] are integrated yet remain distinct in their integrity while serving a function completely new to the building. What once was a bank is now the place of learning and design for one of the largest banks in Europe [65].
In this application the PODPopulas serves as the Entry guardian and guide, one Maximus as a working environment for Center staff and the other as a retreat space in the Garden for participant-users. While a greater number of PODs would be in order, if this were a full service navCenter as envisioned by the Vanguard project, what is demonstrated here is the integration of the POD into a family of work-components. This goes beyond anything previously accomplished. This alone makes UniCredit a significant bench mark in our 17 year history of POD-making. This project sets the standard by which future effort will be measured.
The Stan Leopard home office addition design was a variant on the 2003 Pod Greenhouse concept. This design was part of several additions which we explored 2006 to early 2008. We almost broke ground with this one but changing circumstances ultimately put the project on hold. Stan say the real estate melt down over a year before the general public as well as many of the general financial consequences which were to follow. This curtailed a number of, but not all, interesting designs we were working on for Stan.
2007 continued
In late 2007 we created the mediaPOD. This configuration is designed to provide three dimensional containment creating an appropriate environment for media-intensive activities and work requiring a high level of acoustic integrity. How this POD fits into a landscape is partially demonstrated below. As a configuration, it constitutes a departure from anything we have done in the past and this gives rise to both unique opportunities and relationship issues with other forms of furniture and architecture [66]. The POD is shown in the AI shop as it was the day it was presented to the first potential user, the UVA Radiology group [67].
The production version of the mediaPOD is, of course, is conceived to be more finished and sophisticated than what we accomplished with the MULE [68] which was essentially a study using inexpensive materials in order to demonstrate its interior space and get feedback on how to configure it for its first intended use. Given this qualification, the essential character of the POD can be seen. It is clear than it presents a new geometry and symbol - with many social connotations - in the Taylor kit-of-parts. It will allow a closer packing of PODs than other forms and it will require more intensive landscaping to best make use of the negative spaces thus created. For those not familiar with “negative-space,” as a term-of-art, it does not meant negative in the sense of “bad.” Just the opposite. The negative space in architecture is that which remain if the solid objects are not the focus of attention. This is actually the most subtitle yet provocative aspect of space in the architectural art [69]. The pure geodesic geometry brings a synergistic mix of both simplicity and complexity to a space. It creates a strong comforting sense within its own interior. The interactions between its outer shape, and the other elements making up the environment around it, are intrinsically dynamic yet more complex to deal with than conventional forms. The mediaPOD will provide a new level of spatial complexity to our interior landscapes as well as an enhanced ability to play with scale within them.
In early 2008, the first mediaPOD application was realized at the Radiology Department of the University of Virginia Medical Center. This is one interior configuration of several applications. Each will have to be prototyped with a client. A second mediaPOD is scheduled to be installed at the VA in 2009.
This review of the the POD in landscape provides a context for understanding the idea of the workPOD and how is fits into the greater work environment as it may be developed for various applications. The POD, from the beginning, was conceived to be set in a live landscape environment [70]. A POD can successfully “stand alone” as an inspiring and useful place to work. It true setting, however, is in a community of PODs, CubeOffices, WorkWalls and Armature. This architecture of flexible, modular, manufactured components is intended to be mediated by plants and artifacts of meaning [71]. The arrangement of it all as the direct consequence of, and and expression of, a living-work process. The totality of this environment truly functions only if it adapts to the work requirements of the users - not demanding that their work processes conform to the limits of the built environment - and, this requires that adaptation be done my the users themselves and not a priesthood of specialist who will dictate what they can and cannot do while charging for the “service.” [72] Additionally, all of this has to be achieved in an affordable way as the work-environment has to make its living and provide an ROI on its capital investment [73]. Affordable means sustainable, life-enhancing, and measured by an extended lifecycle economics [74], which includes an accurate measurement of productivity [75], not the cheep standards of a throw away economy.
I turn now to a brief description of the PODs themselves and to a briefer comment on what is ahead on, the next scale of recursion, for this modular way of making environment.
Go to Part Two for this decription, the future application of this way of designing-building employing modular units for various housing designs, and the [#] Notes supplimenting this article.
GoTo: Part Two of Two
Matt Taylor
September 4, 2007
March 1, 2009


SolutionBox voice of this document:


posted September 2. 2007
revised March 1, 2009

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(note: this document is about 95% finished)

Matt Taylor 615 720 7390 • me@matttaylor.com


Copyright© Matt Taylor 1980, 1990, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2009
Certain aspects of the system and method described are patented
and in patent pending

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