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Students Design the NEXT Hybrid Workplace

Steelcase’s NEXT Student Design Competition tested students’ skills amidst the pandemic.

Students showed grit, agility and innovation in Steelcase’s 8th annual NEXT Student Design Competition. Not only did the students design a future pandemic-aware workplace, they did so while facing the same pandemic constraints they were trying to solve.

“It is so rewarding to see the talent that’s out there. The future of design is in great hands,” says Jerry Holmes, Steelcase Design Alliances principal and competition co-leader. “It is not lost on us that students and design programs navigated a very difficult year and spent a lot of time working remotely which created unique challenges. But despite these challenges, the end results were exceptional.”

Five finalists from California State University – Long Beach, George Washington University, Miami International University of Art and Design and Virginia Tech were chosen from more than 900 entries and 65 design programs. They presented their design concepts to an esteemed panel of judges from Gensler, HOK, Perkins&Will, ZGF Architects, Revel Architecture & Design and Steelcase.

The winner, Jen Khor from California State University – Long Beach, received the biggest prize for herself and her design program, but each finalist and their university benefits from exposure to the world’s leading design firms. Students receive mentorship and gain experience from developing, conceptualizing, visualizing and presenting an idea in a real-world scenario.

“These finalists were the cream of the crop. We asked them to sell their idea as if they were talking to real clients. They had to solve their customer’s business challenges and connect emotionally to their audience. They did an amazing job,” adds Denise Calehuff, Steelcase Design Alliances principal and competition co-leader.

The Challenge

Students were asked to design a satellite office for NEXT, a fictional global technology company specializing in health and wellness. Headquartered in San Francisco, NEXT is opening the first of many planned satellite offices in Atlanta. Along with this expansion, NEXT is also providing a more robust option for employees to work from home and plan future expansions in Europe and Asia. The company wants a home for their collaborative creative content development teams that amplifies the wellbeing of its people and promotes health and safety in the post-vaccine workplace post. Students were asked to consider how the company will connect to its new home in Atlanta and what types of spaces and technology would be needed to prepare the company for a hybrid approach to work that includes people in the office, at home and in satellite locations.

Winner: Jen Khor, California State University – Long Beach

Next student winner wearing a black blazer

Jen Khor joined the judges from Malaysia where she has been learning as an international student for the last several months. It was 4 a.m. her time when she discovered she’d won. Despite delivering her presentation in the middle of the night just a few hours earlier, she didn’t miss a beat. “I designed a hybrid office that fosters resilience while honoring the local culture of Atlanta,” says Khor. “This is the most well-developed, mature project I’ve ever completed. This competition taught me so much. It’s been an incredible experience.”

Khor’s design encourages creativity and innovation with agile workplace design and adaptive physical and virtual work environments. She considered opportunities for spontaneous interactions to promote inclusivity. Her presentation walked clients through a day-in-the-life of a typical employee, something that really resonated with the judges.

“I was impressed by her work from the very beginning,” says Lina Murillo, Perkins&Will design principal. “Jen had a very strong parti and clear execution of the story. The concept of resiliency and how she layered emotion into architectural forms to define space were beautifully done with a sophisticated palette and attention to detail. Her design really thought about what happens in a regular workspace — from relevant topics such as monitors for virtual connectivity to whiteboards to graphically representing thoughts and ideas. She walked us through every single detail of NEXT employees’ experience and what they would see, hear and touch.”

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Jen Khor’s Design

This open office includes a historic map of midtown Atlanta carved into the wall. It connects Atlanta’s resilience to the resilience of Next’s employees.

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Jen Khor’s Design

These private spaces consider ergonomics and remote connections for those working in the Next office.

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Jen Khor’s Design

The Next cafe includes a variety of seating options as well as integrated technology to allow for planned or spontaneous collaboration.

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Jen Khor’s Design

A dedicated space for learning and collaboration includes digital and analog tools for in-person and remote participants.

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Jen Khor’s Design

This casual living room space provides people with natural light and outside views to help them feel inspired.

Sophia DeNezza, George Washington University

photo of Next student participant smiling and wearing her hair down

Sophia DeNezza’s design radiated out from her monumental staircase, which served as a center point. Expansion represented the growth and forward movement of the company, and allowed her to create spaces that were flexible, collaborative, creative and innovative while promoting the overall wellbeing of the people working there. Judges noted that her conference rooms anticipated hybrid work, which is what design is all about right now. They said the geometry in the space felt very natural and described her design as chic. “Her talent for design shows through even in the smallest of spaces,” says Thomas Krizmanic, Gensler studio director. “She used a restrained palette and got a lot out of it. She did a great job not only explaining what was in her design, but why it was there.”

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Sophia DeNezza’s Design

This learning space includes Coalesse LessThanFive chairs which add flexibility to the space because they are so light and easy to move.

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Sophia DeNezza’s Design

A variety of workspaces allows people to choose the place that works best for them.

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Sophia DeNezza’s Design

The open office includes sleek and modern furniture as well as vertical design elements that draw your eye up, create territory and connect nearby spaces.

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Sophia DeNezza’s Design

This project team space is a great area for people to break away from a meeting for a small group discussion or use as an impromptu collaboration session.

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Sophia DeNezza’s Design

This booth seating area provides beautiful views of Atlanta. It’s a great place to do focus work or grab a moment of respite.

Maria Rivera, Miami International University of Art and Design

photo of Next student participant smiling and wearing her hair down

Inspired by pop art and the Rubik Cube’s mechanical system, Maria Rivera’s design stood out as unique. She wanted to make every space powerful, playful and interactive — delivering a joyful and dynamic design. Her project included a timeless, colorful palette along with basic geometric shapes inspired by the streets of Atlanta so that everyone who worked at or visited Next would feel like they were in the heart of the city.

“You can tell her designs are intrinsically beautiful,” says Scott Clement, Revel Architecture & Design COO and principal. “Her project felt like a space you could actually construct or perhaps already had been built. She thought about all the parts and pieces and used a very sophisticated palette of materials.”

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Maria Rivera’s Design

The inspiration zone includes digital surfaces to make displaying content easy and interactive.

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Maria Rivera’s Design

Next can also use their work cafe for townhall gatherings. Storage is provided for stackable seating under the theatre.

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Maria Rivera’s Design

Multi-functional spaces support flexibility at Next and provide places where people can come together for a quick chat or do individual focus work.

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Maria Rivera’s Design

In-between spaces encourage people to connect and collaborate between meetings, and give people a spot to get a little work done while on the go.

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Maria Rivera’s Design

The street art of Atlanta is celebrated throughout the Next satellite office design.

Wendy Uriarte, California State University – Long Beach

photo of Next student participant smiling and wearing a white sweater

Wendy Uriarte’s design is centered around the idea of creating a safe and inclusive workplace that brings people together. Intersecting forms meet at the central open stair connecting the creative, collaborative and rejuvenating spaces. Her colorful logo design for Next also reinforces the idea of connection as a strong element for placemaking and brand expression. “We appreciated the risk she took with bold, strong colors,” says Kim Scott, Principal, ZGF Architects. “Her design had the energy and vibrancy of a technology firm and her presentation was clear and easy to follow. Her preparation definitely paid off.”

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Wendy Uriarte’s Design

This interactive learning environment connects in-person and remote participants, and flexible furniture elements let people reconfigure the space on demand.

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Wendy Uriarte’s Design

The open office allows for individual work and impromptu collaboration sessions. The furniture follows the movement of the staircase and boundary elements.

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Wendy Uriarte’s Design

Private enclaves are situated far away from busier areas of the floorplan to allow for deep focus work. They let natural light stream in while still providing privacy.

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Wendy Uriarte’s Design

The work cafe is where people can meet, socialize or rejuvenate when necessary. Linear slats in the ceiling create a connection to other nearby spaces.

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Wendy Uriarte’s Design

The monumental staircase is the main connection between the first and second floors. It represents the heart of the space and also acts as an added lounge area.

Josie Price, Virginia Tech

photo of Next participant wearing a jacket and smiling

The Atlanta Botanical Garden Canopy Walk inspired Josie Price’s workplace design. A winding path links the two office floors and mimics a walk through nature, creating a place of calm and refuge to help people destress and refocus during the work day. Two terraces along the walk provide moments of pause to enjoy the view. The space features natural colors, textures and layered ceiling elements which allude to overlapping trees within a forest.

“We loved that her plans incorporated the terrace and included indoor-outdoor spaces,” says Betsy Nurse, HOK Atlanta’s director of interiors. “After what we’ve all been through in the past year, we’re going to need to inspire people to come back to the office, so we were drawn to her joyful and inspiring design.”

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Josie Price’s Design

With safety as a key consideration, the open office uses the geometry of the furniture to make sure people aren’t sitting face-to-face.

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Josie Price’s Design

The work cafe is a social work space with comfortable furniture and felt panels that provide more privacy and intimacy.

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Josie Price’s Design

Price’s design includes a clear path cutting through the work area that connects to her botanical canopy walk inspiration.

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Josie Price’s Design

The work lounge is open, light and airy and is meant to support focused work. Plants and screens are used as barriers to create more division between people.

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Josie Price’s Design

The patio serves as a social space or a rejuvenation area as well as being a place where Next can host events or provide an extension to their work cafe.

For more information about the Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition, visit us online.

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