A Tour of Taylor Work Environments
the integration of physical space, a way of working and technology augmentation

• for the story of each project and related material click on the images •

• click on picture (above) for updated slide show of tsmARCHITECURE work as of July 2009 •


The projects highlighted in this tour of MG Taylor workplace architecture span exactly 20 years and the US, Canada and Europe.

Throughout this period, we have practiced continuity of principles and pattern language in concert with continuous innovation and aggressive development of means and capability. The oldest project shown in this tour is still in operation in its fourth, five-year lease cycle, without major alteration or renovation, despite the fact that four entirely different organizations have employed it.

This project (our first complete NavCenter by modern definition) was entirely custom built; it took 6 months to complete and was expensive for its time. It was flexible and adaptable as all our environments are, yet this came at a high cost. Our most recent project is entirely manufactured - it can be shipped anywhere and set up in a few days and it can transform any “box,” large enough to hold it, into a fully functional 21st Century workplace. Although about the same size, it cost less than the original work and it is far more flexible, adaptable and supports a much wider venue of work modalities and technology augmentation tools. This difference is the measure of the fruits of 20 years of rapid prototyping as well as the advances that have been made in technology.

Taylor environments are meant to transform [link] the work experience. They are based on a way of learning and working that is natural to knowledge workers in a networked economy. This has been our purpose from the mid-70s, when we developed the concept of MG Taylor.

For over a quarter of a century, we have designed, built and operated environments to facilitate hundreds of organizations and thousands of their workers through systemic change. This has been our lab. By employing rapid prototyping, iterative design-build-use, constantly informed by feedback, we have compiled a body of knowledge about the relationship between the environment and human innovation. How people actually use work environments to accomplish their goals is significantly different than conventional wisdom teaches.

The essence of a Taylor environment is the tight integration between the physical place (which expresses all the attributes of authentic architecture [link]), the living and work processes (which are based on complexity and emergence as the norm [link]) and the tools (configured to augment human collaboration and creativity [link]) that are employed. Our approach to integration is unique and the method, upon which it is based, was granted a US patent in 2001.

Network architecture is the basis of future organizations. The work environment has to reflect this organization and support its way of working - which is fundamentally different from hierarchy. Because architecture is the expression of human values it cannot be faked. We shape our environments and in turn they shape us. How an environment is made determines what it becomes. At MG Taylor, we work in our own environments and employ our processes to build environments for others. We consider all stakeholders (investors, producers, users) to be equal co-designers in every project. We call this a ValueWeb [link]. The simplest statement of our work is that we make virtual and physical place in which people continually transform their work, communities, organizations and, thus, themselves.

The typical work environment does not work well [link]. It does not support collaboration, particularly of large groups which is essential when dealing with complex systemic problems. It is not a healthy place. In terms of total life-cycle economics, it costs too much. It presents old symbols and long ago rejected messages. It expresses and enforces worn out work habits.

The modern workplace is too often separated from the communities it impacts most. Living and work are bifurcated in the name of false efficiency. Isolation dehumanizes people and leads to decisions, services and “goods” that treat all life as a commodity. To put life back into the workplace requires putting the workplace back into life.

People spend 50% of their active years in the work environment. Work has shifted from largely rote to the exercise of applying knowledge to situations of ever increasing complexity. The work environment has to be where it is required to be and it must be configured to support the work that is at hand - not be where it was and doing what it did - yesterday. People have to be “at home” in their work environment - able to learn, able to work as knowledge creators and collaborators. The work environment should have the variety of nature, the efficiently of a factory, the comfort of a home, the stimulus of a great city, sanctity of a library, the display capability of an art gallery, the fun of a toy store, the media of the best of theaters, the landscape of a nature park, the fluidity of a wagon train, the sense of play of a theme park, the resources of an university, and the technology integration of a ship. And, it can. Not to do this is to deny the human - short change the potential in people, and to subvert the power of organizations to do good and to be profitable as a consequence of their ability to enhance human lives.

This integration is achieved by removing the barriers between design, engineering, building and use. It is achieved by creating the work place - the physical, the processes, the tool kit - to be a single eco-system which is dynamic, alive and constantly evolving. It is achieved by making the workplace a work of art.


At MG Taylor we use natural materials to build our environments for a variety of reasons. They are renewable. They recycle easier. They age and repair more gracefully. There is an easy affinity with them. There are thousands of years of long accepted design and craft grammar associated with these materials and this provides an anchor for people even as so much else is new.

Every region of the world has traditional patterns that possess great social memory. Manufacturing does not have to obliterate these connections. The typical work environment, once you are in it, becomes a bland place with no signature nor sense of locality. The manufacture’s brand overwhelms local geography, the brand of the organization and the personal esthetics of its people. Mass customization and lean-production methods, if applied correctly, can promote a blend of universal and local design attributes which can counteract this whitewashing of the human race.

Too often the style-of-the-moment is proliferated throughout the global workplace as the next-great-thing. You may not know where you are in your work environment but you can sure tell when it was made. The built environment, other than some playful things, should not be a creature of fashion with “looks” that come and go like the tides. Obsolescence should not be built in - it should be built out. Think of the VC Morris Shop, now 44 years old. A retail store that old and not redone? Not needing to be redone [link]. This is good economics. It helps in the making of history and social memory. Build well, build to last. Make those things that have to change easy to change. Make the things that do not have to change out of high quality materials that last for a lifetime. Make what is transitory out of materials that can be easily recycled. This is the principle of Armature [link].

As work becomes global and virtual, materiality is more important - not less. Every virtual node on the World Wide Web is someplace. Season, time of day and night, artifacts of local distinction are important reminders of both our common humanity, our communities and the unique aspects of each of us. The individual touch that workers bring to their personal environments, assuming that this is possible, are a measure of their own comfort and ability to settle in. In many corporations, this is prevented because it “spoils the design and corporate look.” It is interesting to think what message this policy sends.

Architecture that cannot stand the variety of those using it is a weak attempt at best. Everyone deserves and needs a place of their own to work [link]. This personal place cannot be isolated from collaborative and social spaces. Hard barriers do not work well in this regard. A series of graded transitions, controllable by those being effected by interaction, is the requirement. Prospect and refuge is necessary to human comfort.

The great untapped resource in the typical workplace is light. This is a health, comfort, work efficiency and esthetic issue. Like so much of modern life an engineering principle coupled with false economics combine to make the fluorescent glare that is so common.


Full spectrum lighting is necessary to physical health. Also, moods are effected by lighting. Glare, primitive computer screens, excessive sitting and small cubicles generate a series of health and attitudinal problems - all in the name of economics. The air quality of many building is poor - or worse. Toxic materials are abundant. HVAC systems tend to be loud and blow right at you dust, germs and all. Again, economical systems? The consequences of these environmental factors are not measured: dulled senses, productivity loses, absenteeism and long term health care costs.

Healthy environments are good business. Heath requires moving around, engaging in physical activities, being mentally stimulated, employing all the senses, being a valued part of a community. The work environment not only must support these factors, it should be organized so that they are demanded by the arrangement of the space and the resources within it.

Different work tasks require different work processes which require different spaces. Because the modern worker multi-tasks, it is not possible to shape workplaces around singular, dedicated work patterns. Because everyone has their own preferences, it does not enhance productivity to force people into standard solutions with trivial options offered up as “choice” and “flexibility.” It is not flexibility if an army of technicians are required to reset the workplace. It has to reset on-demand by those who use it requiring little time, no esoteric skills or specialized tooling.

Today, most everyone has work that requires many different modes of working. Working alone, in small teams, in large groups. Working with remote collaborators, traveling, working at home. Working on projects that can be held in a single laptop with wireless or on projects so complex it takes a 40 foot wall just to see the key factors and their relationships. This requires using computers and media as well as centuries old means of expressing ideas. This is a demanding and rich workplace that is unfortunately truncated by existing architecture rather than being augmented by it.

The appropriate environment for a knowledge-worker is a “cybernetic forest” [link]. Human built environments can match this specification. Achieving this requires giving up many of the old design assumptions that dominate the workplace today. It means moving from a workplace based on real estate practices to making a temple of work.

Architecture is not about thing-ness it is about spirit. Architecture that is appropriate [link] for the workplace expresses the spirit of the enterprise. It inspires. It facilitates - to make easy - knowledge transactions and work processes. It is the embodiment of the principles and values of the enterprise. It is memory of its history and practices. It is BUILT philosophy.


Architecture is an art. It is only practical when it achieves this status. Architecture shelters life, organizes the space and utilities that supports life, and it expresses life. Authentic architecture [link] is as natural a place to be in as a forest. It is a place of fresh air, gentle breezes and light. It is made up of shade and shadow, prospect and refuge, hot social areas and quite places for retreat, study, thought and contemplation. The living and work processes that take place within it are supported in specific and concrete ways. This means on a finite level not as a gross generality. Its energy and material life-cycles support sustainable environmental processes; it is not made up of sick buildings that make people ill, over consume energy and pollute the Earth.

An authentic architecture expresses place. It is somewhere and you know it. It expresses the special essence of its region, community and that of the enterprise which it houses. It presents a viewpoint, a way of seeing reality [link]. It provides the experience of this sense of reality and life.

A proper work environment does what all architecture does and it earns its living. It does so by facilitating human creativity and production. It does so by projecting the BRAND of the organization as a powerful message to employees, customers and public. It supports the economy of an enterprise by being economical not by being the consequence of short term, budget-driven compromises. All things being equal, a work of architecture makes more money than a mere building - as S.C.Johnson discovered. H.F. Johnson Jr., who built the Johnson Administration building with Frank Lloyd Wright, claimed it paid for itself in a matter of a few years. This environment is lovingly maintained to this day, nearly 70 years later, as both symbol and home of the company [link].

Architecture is not a visual art. It is an experiential art. You move through it and every aspect of the environment speaks. Nothing is accidental and the subject of this art is the people who live and work within it and their way of doing so. These messages come by many senses: sight, texture, sound, smell, touch, movement and provoke many intelligences: kinesthetic, proximity, emotional, conceptual, tactile. All these are in different weight and combination for each person yet they add up for all as a gestalt that is unmistakable in essence and fidelity. The ubiquity of human made building is such that it is becoming the major environmental factor we are co-evolving with. This makes the character and quality of our architecture more critical than in the past.

Next to architecture, and aside from direct human interaction itself, the greatest human-made influence on people is media. When architecture and media are combined the result is powerful. The modern workplace is becoming, by necessity, the greatest exponent of this combination.

All forms of media are multimedia from paper and pen to graphic workstations and multi-array displays expressed in print, sound, video/film or tactile means. Each form of media, and every kind of expression of it, has some elements it does best. Each of us has an unique profile of learning and creating with our own individual requirements for tooling. The work environment can and must accommodate this variety. It does not come close to doing so today.

Everything in the work environment speaks including the physical structure itself. Media conveys information, it challenges and stimulates thinking and it is one form of memory. The entire environment is memory of what has gone before. It is the true signature of an enterprise - not because you hang a sign on it - it is so because architecture is the enterprise’s values built large. You can try and tell someone what you are but let them come into your house and they can see for themselves.

There are many different kinds of work and each kind must be supported according to its specific nature not according to some generalized abstraction of work processes. Working surfaces, tool configuration and accessibility, displays, room sizes, light levels, the number of people involved in a task, work cycle duration, work activity pace - all are variables that demand distinct and direct architectural support. In the typical work environment this does not happen with anywhere near the granularity required by the work.

The use of computers and media in the workplace today is still primitive. These tools are now largely used to amplify what are 19th century methods. The fact that computer keyboard layout followed the typewriter which was designed to slow down typing because of the slow response of early machines, is a fitting metaphor for a broad set of examples. The argument, when electric typewriters came out and eliminated the speed problem was that the installed base was too large and a change would be too disruptive. Compare the number of keyboard users today to that of the 1960s and the absurdity of this argument is revealed. This is but one example. Now, workers are being asked to understand immensely complex relationships through the footprint of a small screen (or small pages of print) usually statically displayed while often having to do this in a shared way. Even with recent advances this is impossible. All technologies have strengths and weaknesses. Each has an epistemology in embedded form. Each reveals some things and hides others. Thus, every technology has a bias.

These factors of technology are inescapable. The configuration of the technology tool kit and how this is intimately linked to interaction protocols, worker rules-of-engagement and work processes can not only mitigate these disadvantages, they can turn them to advantage. Taylor work environments have anticipated these factors from our beginning and have prototyped alternative tooling applications designed to do so. Our approach to technology has been to insist that it be transparent - never getting between the knowledge worker and the work or other knowledge workers. We have introduced technology into our environments only at the rate that the users can understand and maintain it themselves. Even so, we have pushed technology to its limits bringing our vision “to here” at every opportunity.

In balance, MG Taylor physical environments and work processes have advanced closer to our vision than has our technology applications. This is so for two reasons. The relative immaturity of the technology and the high cost of it. Recent advances are rapidly improving these factors. Even so (and this is also true for the environments we have build for our own use), the part of the budget that gets cut consistently is for media and its integration and use between work sites. We are just beginning to realize the many technology techniques illustrated on our 1982 “THERE” graphic [link].

I do not believe that we humans can be requisite with the complexity and rate of change in our world if we do not employ advanced media techniques in everyday work situations. Look at what a movie can convey in three minutes and compare it to a typical dialog in the workplace. There is no comparison. Simulations, in the near future, will be standard research, planning and design tools. We have been regularly employing them in our environments for the last 15 years with outstanding results. The integration of computer support and human enacted simulations is still immature. The costs are too high. The ability to draw from past experiences and incorporate prior work in real time with new simulations is still a dream. The next few years will witness great advances in this arena. The impact this will have on the physical environment will be profound.

For all these reasons the time that it takes to make a work environment has to be radically reduced. Today, by the time a design is implemented it is often out of date. The world and organizations, in response to it, are constantly changing; so should our architecture. Our ability to build environment has to be requisite with our need to have it and change it when necessary. Much greater quality has to be accomplished at significantly lower costs.

MG Taylor practices architecture in a way designed to improve these time, quality, cost factors. We do design/build whenever possible. Our ValueWeb Team is committed to a seamless integration between design, engineering, fabrication, building and the use of the product of this collaboration. We seek long term relationships built on trust and proven performance. We believe in transparency in accounting across the entire ValueWeb and shared risks and rewards on the project level.

We have a shop that produces our own case work, Armature elements and WorkFurniture. This enables rapid prototyping and facilitates mass customization. Our shop crew installs what they build and deploys our RDS (portable) environments. This enhances feedback between users and producers.

These design/build methods were developed by me in the 1960s [link]. It was possible to cut 75% of the time and over 40% of the costs from what was already thought of as commodity level construction. It was possible to do this and achieve a great increase in design and construction quality. The world is far more complex today and we are just starting to build a capacity based on this prior experience. Then, it was a practice exercise in anticipation of the kind of environments we are building today. As much as conditions are different from the 1960s, the principles remain the same and the opportunities today are far greater.

It is time for the Cathedral Builders [link] to gather and begin work.

Matt Taylor
December 14, 2004



Projects Illustrated: Orlando Management Center 1985 Matt Taylor and Jim Toohey Orlando, Florida • Capital Holding Management Center 1992 Matt Taylor, Don Weber, Langdon Morris, Louisville Kentucky • Cambridge knOwhere Store 1996 Matt Taylor, Inga Hanks, Bill Blackburn, Brian Coffman, Cambridge Massachusetts • Palo Alto knOwhere Store 1997 Matt Taylor, Bill Blackburn, Inga Hanks, Palo Alto California • Continuum Health Care NavCenter and Offices 1999 Matt Taylor, Inga Hanks, Bill Blackburn, NYC New York • Joseki Offices 2002 Matt Taylor and Scott Arenz, Menlo Park California • Vanderbilt NavCenter 2002, 2004 Matt Taylor, Bill Blackburn, Nashville Tennessee • Cincinnati VA NavCenter (concept) 2003 Matt Taylor and Scott Arenz, Cincinnati Ohio • Salt Lake City VA NavCenter 2004 Bill Blackburn and Matt Taylor, Salt Lake City Utah • Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital (concept) 2003 Matt Taylor, Bill Blackburn, Jerry Headly, Matt Fulvio, Nashville Tennessee • Bill Stead’s Office @ VCBH 2004 Bill Blackburn and Matt Taylor • Master’s Academy and College NavCenter 2004, Matt Taylor, Bill Blackburn, Matt Fulvio, Jim Taipale, Scott Arenz • RDS for WEF and Club of Madrid, design 2004, deployment 2005, Bill Blackburn, Brian Ross, Dick Lowndes, Jerry Headly, Matt Fulvio, Scott Arenz, Irina Sokolova, Matt Taylor, Andrea Guida, Rodney Meadows •

Additional Credits: Don Penteldon, project manager for Cambridge KnOwhere Store construction and operations • Brian Ross, Director of the AI Shop, fabrication of WorkFurniture and Armature systems all projects excepting Orlando and Joseki Offices • Eric Plankton, project manager and lead craftsman for Joseki Offices supervising a team of SFIA students • Allan Baker, field superintendent for Master’s NavCenter • Gail Taylor, Mauirizio Travaglini, Patrick Frick, program development for WEF and Club of Madrid RDS deployments (scheduled for 2005) • Patsy Kahoe for logistics management 1993 through present • Lisa Piazza for business management and process transfer, Vanderbilt, Salt Lake City and others, 1997 through present • Tim Siglin and Doug Cantrell, multimedia engineering • Paul Lyons, WorkPod design and various furniture pieces 1997 - 1999 • Langdon Morris, WorkFurniture development 1988 to 1992 • Bill Blackburn, WorkFurniture and Armature development 1992 through present • Gail Taylor, co-developer of Taylor IP and co-founder of MG Taylor 1979 to 2002 - now founder of TomorrowMakers, a non-profit employing the Taylor method • RK Bruce, finacial management 1993 through present •

posted: December 14, 2004 • revised: December 17, 2004 and July 3, 2009
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update January 25, 2007:
Between January 2006 through January 2007 the UniCredit NavCenter was designed. From mid-November, 2006 to January 29, 2007 the project was engineered, fabricated, shipped from Glasgow Kentucky to Turin, Italy, installed and opened for business. This is our most sophisticated environment built to date. It is not the end of our evolution. It is the beginning of our true work. It took 50 years of my work and over 25 years of MG Taylor’s to reach this basic expression of our ideas. The integration of environment, process and knowledge augmentation in this environment creates a potential which can take the Taylor System and Method practice to a whole new level. It will take some time for this potential to be realized. For details about this project, and the story of its development, click on the picture above.

• click on picture (above) for updated slide show of tsmARCHITECURE work as of July 2009 •