mit google transformable meeting spaces: once believed to be an ingenious design strategy for reducing costs and fostering a collaborative approach, the past twenty years has seen the open-plan office take a fall from grace. it’s increasingly saw by employees as a noisy and stressful. however with real estate prices soaring, it’s not an easy trend for companies to reverse this pattern of where people work. that’s why successful solutions have been small-scale interventions that reconfigure existing open-plan spaces to fit employees’ needs in the moment.



video courtesy of MIT




‘transformable meeting spaces’ are aimed at reimagining interior office or building environments. there are predominantly two approaches to office design–open spaces versus fixed offices. both design strategies face significant challenges. open office plans have been shown to decrease productivity due to noise and privacy challenges yet they can provide flexibility and develop collaborative opportunities. fixed offices offer privacy and quite environments, yet restrict the type of working spaces available and occupy more square footage. this research undertaken by MIT proposes an alternative whereby structures can easily transform between private phone booths, lounge spaces or other quiet meeting spaces into open flexible areas. by utilizing woven and transformable materials these meeting spaces can expand and contract to create a wooden, cocoon-like meeting room for six to eight people, or morph into the ceiling leaving a clear and open area below.

mit google transformable meeting spaces designboom
cocoon-like structure forms new meeting space




at a first glance the ‘transformable meeting space’  doesn’t seem so different from some quirky, adaptable workplace furniture that could be found in a startup office. when it fully morphs, it has a diameter of around ten feet and a height around eight feet tall—enough room for various applications, from single workspaces to meetings of up to eight people. its elliptical walnut exterior creates a secondary ‘cocoon’ for the office, where nearby sounds are dampened. pulling on a counterweight allows the space to descend from the ceiling, and a push of the structure’s frame lifts it back up.

mit google transformable meeting spaces designboom
from six up to eight people can enter the structure




there is no need for electronics or technology involved in this durable, complex structure. the workspace comprises 36 fiberglass rods that are interwoven into textile-like material that is described as a ‘moveable skeleton’ with a certain amount of flex. knit together in a cylindrical braid, the fiberglass rods behave similarly to a chinese finger trap: the circumference of the pod shrinks when it’s pulled, and expands when relaxed. the combination of the weave, material, and a little bit of energy from the counterweight makes it possible for the workspace to lower from the ceiling and transform without motors, gears, or any source of energy.

mit google transformable meeting spaces designboom
thirty-six interwoven fiberglass rods provide structural framework




these structures build on the lab’s work with smaller-scale ‘active’ textiles and materials, or 3D printed materials that respond to temperature and moisture, by applying the same basic principles to architectural space. tibbits calls them ‘active woven structures’. he even envisions one day using the research to develop woven structures as huge as olympic stadiums that can be collapsed after use without causing a disturbance to both the urban landscape and local economy. the lab is already applying the same concept to larger, more complex projects. these structures do require a little bit of human power; in the case of the ‘transformable work space’, someone pulls on a counter weight gently to activate it. but generally, the lab’s experiments do not. these structures are still in the research stages, and the collaboration with google will help the lab experiment with materials while also developing real-world applications. google’s offices are mostly built with open-floor plans, and now it’s interested in ways the lab’s experiments can help to reconfigure existing offices into more flexible spaces.