A Tour of the UniCredit NavCenter
the integration of physical space, a way of working and technology augmentation
in support of learning, collaboration, creativity, high performance and GroupGenius®
for a general overview of MG Taylor work enviornments GoTo: taylor enviornments tour
If you are not familiar with MG Taylor’s work and the philosophy which governs it, you may want to visit Making Place, a review of 20 years of this work - see the link or click on the picture above. In addition, the many links, provided below, will take you to specific information in regards what is being outlined in that part of the text. This narrative assumes a basic background on our work.
If you wish to see how this environment was built go to: becoming unimanagement nav center. which tells the story of the two months leading up to the making and through the opening of the facility. Go to the first six months of the unimanagement nav center to follow the creation and practice of the Center’s capabilities and operations. NavCenters are emergent [link: zone of emergence] as are the processes they house. The interaction between the architecture, the work process and technology it tight - they have to co-evolve together while in the process of supporting multiple iterations of real world work. It takes over a year to learn how to fully employ a NavCenter. The basics are set during the first 6 months - the learning and improvements continue forever. This Design/Build/Use practice is a radical departure from present architectural concepts and processes [link: thesis].

This narrative will provide a tour of the new UniCredit NavCenter. To complete this documentation will require February and most of March, 07 as the final details of the environment are still being designed, manufactured and put into place. In addition to completing the installation of items, we have to set up and discover the many arrangements - in order to illustrate them here, that an environment like this can support. Drawings, alone, will not convey the true quality of this environment nor its many qualities. Nothing except actually working it will do this. This publication is an attempt to provide a sense of the place and to explicate the principles that generated it. You may want to visit this page more than once, during this web-posting period, as both text and pictures will be changing on an almost daily basis. Remember, this is a personal Notebook, and I write and edit on a continuous basis. This is a thinking process as well as a documentation. It is not a formal paper or publication. It is web published in the name of transparency and for the purpose of sharing the experiences related to the making of this kind of art.


There are several new - not in concept of a NavCenter as it has been since 1982 [link: there to here], but in built reality - capabilities in this NavCenter. This environment is both an intensely physical and virtual place. It has a strong architectural Armature that is is also a multimedia delivery system. The Radiant Room can hold 300 people, and the space around it an additional 200, yet a team of five can be comfortable, and work effectively, in this same room without felling lost. To use this space requires active interaction and participation on the part of the users. This is a designed-in feature of the system. There are 400 lights in the main area - each are individually controlled. There are 40 video displays with up to 8 different content feeds to each one, a sound system that can move the building, sound pickup, remote and hand controlled video cameras and, of course, plugs for electricity, media and computers. The work PODs have turntables for floors, multiple layers of translucent, sliding screens and “sails” overhead which open and close. There are over 1,500 meters of wire in the Armature to prove power, signal/message I/O and devise control. The WorkWalls and Furniture roll, fold, and configure in a wide variety of ways. This environment has both presence - it makes place - and flexibility - it can be shaped by the users at a detailed level in abundant ways. This shaping ranges from plants, workstations, small and large wall components - such as curved WorkWalls 9 meters in length - to the nature, “shape” and content of images, light and sound. All media is multimedia: hand written notebooks, graphics on paper and WorkWalls, models, electronic content in various applications and works of art - all capable of being “mixed” and displayed on walls and screens.

There are, within the main space, six major zones, each with a distinct environmental character, and multiple sub-zones within each: The Radiant Room, the Hallway which surrounds it, the Garden, two Balconies and an Alcove area below one of them. These spaces flow into one another - take a few steps and you find yourself in a place with a distinct feeling and function designed to facilitate a specific set of mental modalities and activities.
Thus, prospect and refuge can be created as is appropriate to the work being done at any time, its content, the work processes being employed and tool sets required, the cognitive style of those doing the work, and where a group is in their creative process and the formation [future link] of the work itself. This setting of place can be provided by KnowledgeWorkers, facilitators and the users themselves as they learn to do so.
This approach rejects the old dichotomies between function and art [link: art-rand, architecture-wright]. The overall impression of the NavCenter is that of a high variety work ecosystem, with many niches, that demand exploration and involvement. Every component is ornament and a direct expression of its function. The architecture also makes direct references to history - broadly and locally. This is appropriate given its function [future link]. As art, the environment is the expression of a theme [future link] and presents a distinct point of view of the world.

Architecture is composed of three attributes: shelter, the arrangement of space and utilities, and the expression of the values of those who build, preserve and use it. As such, architecture is a fact-based art. These attributes are not separate from one another; they are integrated and every element of a work addresses - brilliantly or poorly - all three. These attributes relate to the core function of architecture: to house, to arrange, to express.

Architecture speaks by use of denotation and connotation. Denotation is the message of thing-ness: mass, size, position, materiality. Connotation is the individual and social meaning attributed to what is physically there. Everything is and everything speaks. Each individual and each culture will see and hear what is said differently. Yet, there is a broad commonality that is intrinsic to humanity. What is startling about the 10,000 years of architecture which remains on this planet is both its variety and its uniformity [future link].
An environment for work must facilitate the many human cognitive styles and modes of working. It must express the values, ideals and aspirations of those doing the work. It must be suficiently flexible to accommodate the many ways of working essential to a given situation: individual, team, group; contemplative, interactive; conceptual, hands-on; idea creation to production; immediate time frame to long term efforts; local focus to remote collaboration. For these reasons, a work environment should be a high variety place capable of absorbing the variety necessitated by the mission and task of the users - the very opposite of what has become the default workplace in the modern world [link: a manifesto]. It must be someplace and express locality as well as universality.

To fail to provide this functionality is to build a complete contradiction in the era of knowledge work and the design economy. It is to trap the potential of the human body/mind in a rigid box, deprive it of stimulation, and to express a 20th Century factory mentality while (now) demanding collaboration and creativity which is not supported by an architecture of sameness, hierarchy, glaring poor spectrum lighting, unhealthy HVAC systems, viewless “spaces,” layout poverty, and material cheapness. These atrocities are usually predicated in the name of economy but this false notion totally fails when the true source of human wealth in the 21st century is considered: human capital.

When I describe the UniCredit NavCenter as a work-ecology I am not expressing a metaphor - I mean to be taken literally. I intend this to be an organic and natural place to be alive in and to become one’s best vision of self and community.

NavCenters are not fixed and static - they continue to evolve over time. They have to do this in order to achieve their mission. This is one reason why it will take 6 months to a year to fully set up a Center like the Unimanagement Center after the building task is accomplished. Neither the design nor fabrication is complete even as the environment is now in use. This is the consequence of a deliberate process. The Center’s use, as the NavCenter is employed to do real work, will become the major influence on the final design. The log of this process is being documented [link: unimanagement nav center - first 6 months].
The Taylor Architecture practice is composed of Design/Build/Use. The master builders of old combined the design and build processes. In modern times, these were separated as the craft of building was divided between architects, developers, contractors, manufactures and suppliers. Recently, in all industries, the flaws of this organizational theory have become apparent and now the focus is on re-integration of the organization. This is only partially possible employing the industrial model of organization. It will not do, to just re-integrate design and building in architecture - the use of the architecture now has to be an active part of an iterative design process continually informed by feedback. This cannot be accomplished by a single organization - it requires a network of organizations and individuals - by building and employing what we call a ValueWeb [future link]. Thus, the UniManagement Center was, and will continue to be, created by the very means that it is charged to employ in its work with the corporation and the community of which it is a part. Go to the Credits section of this paper to see the list of those individuals and organizations who made a seminal contribution to the NavCenter’s design and making [future link]. The NavCenter is a place to conceive, develop, practice, teach and transfer the principles and methods of a 21st Century organization be it government, NGO, business or community based; or, be it a global issue that this NavCenter and its ValueWeb can contribute to the solution of.
As beautiful and technically innovative as much of modern architecture is, its separation from the real feedback of use makes much of it merely the same old concept of living and working clothed in modern dress. This is to lose relevance. Not only does much of our present architecture fail to support modern processes - functionally - it also steadfastly expresses the fading world of power, hierarchy and only linear, causal thought. As dynamic as it may look, this architecture is flying under false colors as it is not the architecture of emergence, complexity, collaboration and innovation [future link]. The NavCenter’s design directly addresses these issues. It is to be operated in a new paradigm by a new model to provide transformational experiences to its users while exemplifying the workplace of GroupGenius®.
The development of facilitation, knowledge-base and technology augmentation practices, in support of this new way of working, is the immediate task ahead for the UniManagement NavCenter now that the basic physical thing is built [future Link: 7 domains model]. This development does not take place in a vacuum - it requires the learning and active participation of the end-users as well as the UniManagement staff and an outside network of knowledge-workers. These methods have been developed over a 27 year period by MG Taylor Corporation, yet each Center is unique in its specific circumstance, mission and focus. This requires that the way of working - while having a set of principles in common with all NavCenters - has to be re-created each and every time [link: 4 step model]. This requirement is not only driven by circumstances - it is intrinsic to the Method itself.
As a cutting edge NavCenter, the Unimanagement facility is an ideal test bed for businesses, universities and research groups to prototype new techniques and technologies while learning and documenting their impact on the human creative process and societal consequences. Finding such collaborators is a key task for the Center in the first year of operation. This will continue the Design/Build/Use process on an ever expanding scale - an important element for maintaining future viability. “Technique” in this regard is not to be understood to mean only technologies. All of the arts and sciences are required; and, it is their integration that is most important. Method, techniques and technologies should be transparent and not get between people-to-people interaction. They should facilitate and augment - not interfere. This is the “Cybernetic Forest” concept [link: matt’s 5th domain] of technological ubiquity.
As noted, the Armature carries all of the wiring necessary for lighting, power, multimedia and control systems. It servers four other primary functions: It creates a space - which in turn makes many sub-spaces - in what otherwise would be a cavernous room. It presents a direct metaphor of the Center’s purpose and its place in history. It remains a constant while all else is continually changing to reflect and support the work within. It displays, electronically and via other media, the work produced. Therefore, it creates and holds social memory. These functions are consistent with Herb Greene’s [link: herb greene, architect] concept of Armature Of all our projects to date (2006), this is our most complete rendering of the idea.
The Armature as expression - as a metaphor - derives it theme directly from its place and use. As an environment of learning and collaborative design, and as a significant meeting place in the city of Turin, the navCenter delivers a strong message about the essence of technology, engineering and the transition of this region of Italy to becoming a key player in the global 21st Century design economy. The Armature is made up of three integrated yet distinct structural elements: a simple truss, arches of a dome, and a suspension system. These three elements combine into a mutually supporting composite structure. How this is done it totally exposed to the eye. The total structure is an “open book” of three historically predominate structural forms. Every piece, bolt, clip and wire is exposed while the composition adds up to a statement of shelter, prospect and refuge, and PLACENESS - a high variety landscape for human interaction. All the while, this organic forest of wood fits into and supplements two other historical architectural idioms - one a 19th Century masonry building, one a 21st Century structure of steel and glass - the three together making one integrated architecture.
The simple truss is composed of two truss systems which bisect the grand hall under the original concrete and glass dome - one of the first of its kind. This truss carries the majority weight of the 20 meter span of the Armature. It is the main feed and home run - through its feet - of all wires running to various panels in the basement. Completing the longitudinal axis, and supplying lateral support, are three arches on each side of the Truss. These come down to six columns. On top of the truss rest 10 cantilevered arms which support two curved beams over which the wire rope of the suspension system run to support the outer ring of the Armature. These wire ropes terminate at a compression ring which ties the two simple trusses together and supports the ends of the six arches. As this is the center of the span - the place of maximum deflection - the weight of the outer ring is transferred to this point as tension thereby resisting the deflection. In the resolution of the stresses, the major elements of the Armature collaborate - the bearing is distributed to 22 points on the floor with a bolting pattern designed to resist twisting due to earthquakes. Other than the floor bolts, the entire Armature structure is free of the original structure, embracing it yet not tied to it. The Armature can move in response to loads, it can distribute its stresses, it is flexible and strong, it can be modified to accept new technology and display elements. It is a composite of engineering history. It is 90 percent built of simple birch plywood pieces weighing a few pounds. Yes, a metaphor for why the navCenter is there.
more to come

Like all NavCenters, this one is owned by, in this case, UniCredit Bank to be operated as a Learning and Design-Strategy Center for the senior 400 of the corporation. Like all NavCenters, there is built in capability and intension to address two larger levels of social recursion: the city and region of Torino, itself; and, the greater emergent EU and planetary society. Like all NavCenters, it “earns its living” generating value for its primary stakeholders. This, however, is no longer sufficient. Corporations, society and the economic-ecology of the Earth are one system. They, in the future, will evolve or fail together. This reality was successfully - if you ignore the destruction - ignored in a time of looser fitness among the players and the circumstance of lower inter-connectivity and inter-operability. No longer will this work. The interesting and critical issues of our time are systemic and no single organization, functioning on one level of the system, can meet this kind of challenge - alone. The MG Taylor mission and strategy [link:mgt mission] has been to create a new way of working and to transfer this to organizations in such a way that they create immense returns on their investment. This, then, “pays” for a series of knowledge-nodes, possessing a common capacity that can be employed, individually and togehter, for both regional and planet-wide betterment.

On the recursion level of UniCredit, the NavCenter - as a part of the UniManagement facility - is charged with providing intensely interactive and collaborative learning and design experiences in support of a Bank which is seeking to become a true European bank. This in itself requires a profound organizational transformation [link: organizational transformation process]. This is a task that could keep five NavCenters the size of this one successfully employed.
The city of Torino and its region is undergoing a transformation of its entire economy. Basically, it is the shift from an industrial to a knowledge-based, design-focused, replacement economy. The UniManagement facility could have been built in a variety of places - that it was built in Torino is not an accident and - beyond any intension - is significant as the NavCenter and its capacities is one of the more potent and practiced tools for cross boundary, multi-organizational transformation that now exists [future link]. It is this challenge of regional economies and the use of the Taylor Method to facilitate this kind of change that brought me to the attention of UniCredit in the first place [future link].
The “sudden” discovery of Global Warming is the big news of 2007. This awareness is over a generation late [future link] but it is better to plant the tree now than not at all. There are, of course many other other issues of similar scale, scope and criticalness that require Humanities’ attention [future link]. These issues will not be solved by government, by business or by any one individual or organization. They will not be solved by “normal” means. The NavCenter, besides its own collaborative, design and transformational processes, can act as an effective systems integrator for the many knowledge-bases, organizations and tools necessary to work these issues on the business, regional and global levels simultaneously and economically.
The necessity of organizational, regional and global transformation of societies’s economy and way of working-living is no longer a reasonable debate. The luxury of treating the different organizational recursion levels as essentially unrelated is no longer a viable option. Unimanagement has put in place the nascent tool to combine and function on all three levels as well as paying close attention to the personal - the development of the single individual. The challenge ahead is to develop, employ and practice this tool so that it can serve UniManagement, Torino and the greater economy-ecology upon which all human success depends.
NavCenters, to function well, have to be neutral spaces. They are solution oriented and agenda free. The are non attribution environments. A NavCenter operates on the highest fiduciary level. If trust is ever violated, the mission becomes severely compromised. To maintain this space, the rules-of-engagement of use are precise and strict. Within this clearly stated and simple framework there is a enormous amount of free conceptual space. At first, this bothers some people. They can feel that their values are being attacked. They are not. It just is that their values set is not protected by fiat and default. When they realize that this is not an attack but a truly open environment they become free to exercise their values in the process of collaboration and design. It is only at this moment that many realize how prejudicial most environments are and how socially restricted their thinking has been even in ones which they are in general agreement with.
When I say that a NavCenter space has to be neutral, I have to explain what this means. No place is neutral because it it the built expression of values. NavCenters are no exception except the values upon which they are built are clearly stated and the operation of the NavCenter adheres to them with great fidelity. In a NavCenter you know the rules-of-engagement and you can depend on them.
more to come
To make an environment suitable for 21st Century work is not to deny history and ignore the long tradition of great architecture particularly in Italy. The NavCenter incorporates the architecture of many traditions into a new fabric. It also employs technologies and methods from the entire history of civilization along with those on the cutting edge of the future. In fact, it is a lab for testing technologies that are promising yet not quite ready for an unsupported marketplace.
One of the central aspects of the Taylor Method is the making of strong memory [link: memory]. The is necessary to both effective learning and useful creativity and innovation. Architecture is a major maker and holder of memory in a human society. It cannot do this well if it ignores the past or discounts the future. Every work no matter how innovative is born of a time. It makes a statement about this time and place - where it came from - and creates a vision of where it might go. One of the failures of much of the architecture built today is that, in it, you could be anywhere and nowhere. Too often it is an architecture of fads, lacking history, destined to be torn down when the financial payback has be accomplished. Europe has a different history. It keeps its buildings and often re-purposes them in innovative ways. This project is an example of seeking the right re-use of a classic building. The act of doing so delivers a social message as well as corporate and individual ones.
The making of place involves all of the senses, stimulates the aware mind, shelters and supports activities and above all is the physical manifestation of values - it is built philosophy. All serious works of architecture are spiritual in their intent and consequence. They become - if properly used - an instrument of transformation.
MG Taylor NavCenters are designed and operated to facilitate human growth and transformation. They express a future world - as an expression of the values I discussed above - invites people into this place and facilitates their design of a future they want to live in. The NavCenter is an exemplar of one solution and a tool for the creation of many more.

Matt Taylor
TSM Architecture

environment, work processes, technology augmentation, and project management

January 30, 2007



posted: January 25, 2007 • revised: January 29, 2007
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