ArchiExpo e-Magazine - #36 - NeoCon Special - ArchiExpo e-Magazine

Special Edition


Special Edition


NeoCon Special Issue

This issue brings you information on all the hot topics discussed at Chicago’s commercial design fair NeoCon, said to be one of the most important fairs for office furniture and the like by up-and-coming Italian brand IOC (International Office Furniture).  Professionals spoke about the office of the future and hospitality in healthcare design, and in nearly every hall there was talk of sustainable and eco-friendly design. We discussed the subject with the best of the best in environmental and human health-conscious manufacturers like Humanscale and Bernhardt Design. Find more in “US Commercial Design Scene: Trumped Up?” Check out all the goodies this issue has to offer and be sure to connect with us on Twitter.


Fullpage Keller
Hot Topic
Designing for focus work.
Courtesy of Steelcase

Ladies and gentlemen, the future is here. The workplace and the concept of being at work are undergoing immense conceptual shifts. Suddenly, the office has become the set of the Jetsons; sliding screens in every room, Zoom video conferences with attendees from around the globe, lounges with employees playing video...

Banner Hind Rabii
Hot Topic
We need to ensure these wonderful spaces are healthy and environmentally conscious.
Courtesy of NeoCon

At a time when the citizens of the world question individual and global responsibility to better care for the environment, Chicago’s NeoCon commercial design fair ran its 49th edition with a number of conferences focused on sustainability and eco-friendly design. How are commercial furniture manufacturers responding to this need despite President Donald Trump’s decision to take the U.S. out of the Paris Accord?

“Every company, no matter its size, is responsible for its footprint on the planet,” American furniture brand Jasper Group included in their statement on sustainability.

Many U.S. commercial furniture manufacturers have incorporated several procedures to better their environmental footprint. Companies like Knoll, Jasper Group and Herman Miller are why we can remain confident that, despite President Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. from the Paris Accord, individuals from the U.S. will take it upon themselves to continue implementing environmental solutions.

French President Macron, like the rest of the world, can rest assured that the U.S. will still aim to “make our planet great again.”

During the NeoCon fair, companies were more than enthusiastic about discussing the subject because they truly are invested in healing our damaged planet. They often work with several entities such as the CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project) to bring about positive changes.

Here’s how the U.S. commercial design scene is performing:


The Greats that Excel in Eco-friendly Design

“Health and happiness are connected to our spaces,” Arianna Huffington, who launched Thrive Global last September, said in her keynote talk, which was sponsored by IIDA and Humanscale, one of the greatest human- and environment-centered furniture manufacturers today.

“This is a wonderful time to be in our industry,” said Humanscale founder Bob King before presenting Arianna Huffington. “We’ve gone away from the traditional cubicle, boxed-in office style, to a more collaborative and inspiring one. Now we need to ensure these wonderful spaces are healthy and environmentally conscious.”

Huffington worked with Humanscale when she launched Thrive Global; Humanscale helped design the office for Thrive Global with its product line. Humanscale was the first company in the world to produce two net positive products. The Diffrient Smart chair and the Float table were awarded the Living Product Challenge certificate in September 2016, the first products ever to be awarded this distinction.


Courtesy of Humanscale

Courtesy of Humanscale


Five Reasons: To Adopt Environmental Design by Harvard Design Magazine.

ingredientsThe challenge strictly forbids specific materials, including chrome 6, a heavy metal known to cause cancer in animals and humans. As seen in the film
Erin Brockovich, repeated in The Guardian in 2016, chrome 6 is extremely dangerous.

Chrome 3, however, doesn’t contain toxins like chrome 6, Peter Stacey of Humanscale told ArchiExpo e-Magazine during the event. Similar to transparency in food ingredients, we should all know what our furniture and buildings contain. Humanscale offered NeoCon guests a seed paper embedded with basil, parsley and chive seeds, the back of which revealed the ingredients to the Diffrient Smart chair.

Humanscale also recently partnered with Bureo, another Living Product Challenge achiever, to develop innovative solutions to eliminate ocean plastic pollution. Read more about the new prototype of Humanscale’s Diffrient World Chair made from 13 pounds of fishing net from Bureo’s recycling program.

Learn more about the Living Product Challenge here.

Another thick portfolio containing solutions, procedures and certificates is Knoll. Here’s another American manufacturer ahead of the pack as an exemplary brand whose objectives include having a positive impact on the world.

The company promotes the use of renewable energy sources and diverts waste from landfills, exemplified by its Energy Management Program, with a special focus on reducing transportation energy, and its investment in energy efficiency initiatives and infrastructure. After successfully reducing greenhouse gas emissions at the manufacturing facilities, Knoll joined the Carbon Disclosure Project and reworked its carbon disclosure reduction strategy, which now includes the Life Cycle Assessment methodology and LEED guidelines in constructing, renovating and retrofitting facilities. The strategy also includes a supply chain metric for CO2 reduction in processing steel and wood and assembling products.

We invite you to visit their website to learn more as this is simply a small window to their environmental efforts.

Architecture and design professionals are expecting this level of product design more and more, and it is also becoming a common client demand, according to Bob King from Humanscale.

Manufacturers are taking their social responsibility very seriously. It started with companies like Herman Miller and Bernhardt Design, one of the first companies to be Greenguard certified in the U.S., and it continues to be on the rise, opening the market to constant innovation.



Coming Soon: Health Data Platform for BIM

One of the first conferences held on Monday June 12, 2017, addressed the problem of missing or outdated data from manufacturers. Mark Rossolo, public affairs director for UL’s environment department, mentioned the quick come-and-go lifespan of tools designed for BIM. These tools, created with good intentions to help architecture professionals develop sustainable plans, simply don’t survive for lack of data.

As Rossolo said, today we can find a lot of research on the impact on human health, including the impact of buildings and furniture. So how can we integrate green furniture into a BIM project lifecycle? Rossolo asked this question during his talk, and added that in order to respond, UL will officially launch its Spot product library platform for BIM at the end of the third quarter of this year. The launch party will take place at Boston’s GreenBuild exhibition in November. The platform will be free to download and use, with over 1300 manufacturers from the furniture industry already involved.

Furniture manufacturers embraced this ‘go green’ concept before other parts of the industry, according to Rossolo, so it’s no surprise many manufacturers are already on board. UL will continue to show the economic benefits for all eco-friendly products.

“It’s not enough to [tell manufacturers] how eco-friendly products are good for the environment. You have to be able to show economic impact,” Rossolo said. “When architecture professionals search a product on Spot that doesn’t yet have any certified eco-friendly products to list, we can go to the manufacturers and say ‘here’s a need in the market to fill.’ Who will do it first?”


Although it has yet to be released, Spot has already claimed…a spot in the minds of architecture professionals. In a following seminar entitled Life Cycle Thinking: Energy and Human Health, given by LEED Fellow and founder of H2 Ecodesign Holly Henderson, an interior designer asked how Spot relates to the existing tools for green building.

As its name spins around the professional field, Spot is clearly an upcoming major player for BIM users and an incredible point of interest for manufacturers. The platform will assist professionals in creating an entirely eco-friendly and sustainable interior.


Banner Wilkhahn
Hot Topic
Design can encourage a holistic approach to healthcare.
Courtesy of Steelcase


Designing interiors for health care facilities faces greater demands than for other sectors. It requires better risk management, higher cleanliness standards and consideration of how different types of users, from patient to staff, visitor to cleaner, will interact with the design. In addition, recovery can be linked...

Fullpage Bellido

Courtesy of HDR. Photo by Corey Gaffer

The three Mother Baby Centers in Minnesota were born of a partnership between Children’s Minnesota and Allina Health, integrating healthcare for both mother...

Courtesy of Stantec

The student population at Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences (PCHS) in Lancaster had been rapidly growing, spilling into five fragmented buildings. The...

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    At NeoCon this year, Carol Ross Barney, founder and president of Ross Barney Architects, discussed the importance of creating healthy urban public spaces. Her firm is responsible for several rehabilitation projects in Chicago including CTA Cermak-McCormick Station and the Union Station Master Plan. Her firm works to improve experiences of the urban setting, especially in Ross Barney’s native Chicago, because “urbanization helps conserve the planet’s resources,” she says. Today, more than half the world’s population lives in cities.

    The firm recently completed a three stage riverwalk recovery project along Wacker Drive, implementing Daniel Burnham’s 1909 multi-level plan, just a century late. The plan, inspired by the riverwalk along the Seine in Paris, called for a continuous pathway beneath bridges. While this had been a simple task in Paris, Chicago’s moveable bridges necessitate bridge houses that the path needed to bypass while respecting a 25-foot build out restriction. The multiple permits necessary to carry out the project, preparing for large water level variations, handicap accessibility and lack of funds throughout the project were other road blocks that needed to be navigated.

    chicago riverside

    Courtesy of


    The Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial, at the end of the riverwalk’s first stage, was controversial at the beginning of the project. The previous memorial stood at street level, while the riverside below had fallen into disuse. This made it hard to imagine attracting visitors to its lower-level replacement. But the project not only succeeded in bringing a pulse of city life to the riverfront, but also to the new Veterans’ Memorial.

    Photograph by Kate Joyce

    Photograph by Kate Joyce

    The architects assigned themes to the river sections between bridges, creating “a continuous path with multiple experiences,” says Ross Barney. A few examples include the Marina, where boats can dock, the Cove, dedicated to human-powered craft and the Jetty, where native Illinois plants recreate the natural riverbank environment. The last stage of the project was completed in October 2016.

    Courtesy of organicARCHITECT

    As another image of President Trump clouded the NeoCon conference screen during a talk on healthy buildings, speaker Eric Corey Freed explained the importance...

    Courtesy of Benjamin Moore

    It’s always exciting when Benjamin Moore’s color of the year is announced. This year’s Shadow 2117-30 engenders a romantic, somewhat silky and quietly stormy...

    Virtual Reality has been a buzzword for years; however, there’s a great lack of use in the architecture field. “Why the hesitation?” asked Daniel Zeballos and...

    Courtesy of filzfelt

    Daniel Verlooven, Global Acoustics Ambassador at the now 10-year-old acoustic furnishings company Buzzispace chaired the NeoCon panel Demystifying Acoustics. The discussion broke down the complexities of how sound functions differently according to space, while emphasizing the importance of acoustics as an essential consideration for architects, designers and knowledge workers.

    As Verlooven explained, “We have moved from Homo sapiens to Homo interruptus.” Hunched over a computer, seemingly concentrated, one is constantly shifting gears and following a new train of thought due to the distraction of an overheard conversation or distant tick. Wired like our cavemen ancestors, we retain a need for “curiosity, privacy and territory,” the presenter explained. We need our personal space, but we tend to be attentive and alert to what is happening around us. Hence, we’re just not wired to multi-task. The constant background hum of a computer or coffee maker results in an unconscious fixation which not only causes poor concentration, but contributes to a long list of disorders from headaches to anxiety and depression.


    Courtesy of Buzzi Space

    Courtesy of Buzzi Space



    This means that if we’re going to work in open or flexible spaces exposed to multiple activities and machines, the acoustics are an essential consideration. Yet, the difference in sounds, their frequencies and the way that sound-absorbing objects or displays are used is too often miscalculated. Verlooven went on to give the example of people who place a strip of felt on the wall or overburden a space with tons of acoustic panels and carpet for aesthetic purposes. Depending on the volume of the space, a small amount of furnishing will only cancel out high frequencies, like consonants “so, people will just hear each other mumbling.” Moreover, low frequency sounds like mumbling travel far, so even if people on the other side of the room don’t know what one is saying, they still hear the sounds.

    Another misconception is the function of noise reduction coefficients, or NRC ratings. An NRC indicates how much sound an object can absorb, not cancel. The NRC is on a scale of 0 to 1; 0 means no sound absorption and 1 equals complete absorption. The BuzziSpace Ambassador gave the low-down to the audience, proclaiming that “if a sound-absorbing furnishing claims an NRC rating above 1, it’s phony.”



    Seeyond from 3form on Vimeo.


    The bottom line is that there isn’t one end-all solution to acoustic conundrums; each space needs to be considered specifically and attentively with expertise. For example, the reverberations must be measured. BuzziSpace already thought that out with their RT60 app that proposes different sound-absorbing products in response to a given measurement.

    “There is still a lot of knowledge to be shared. There is growing awareness, especially with the current need for wellness, but [architecture professionals] are still often masking the need with a trend,” Verlooven reminded us. If a collaborative space is developed for interaction and discussion, then the space actually needs to be planned with acoustics as the main objective.

     acoustics at Neocon

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    Erin Tallman

    American artist Erin Tallman is a journalist for various online publications and is the Editor in Chief of ArchiExpo e-magazine. She has published three books, including her first novel.

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    Hilary Edesess

    Hilary Edesess is a freelance journalist based in Marseille, France. She blogs about culture, art and urban design.

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    Erin Gigl

    Erin Gigl is a freelance design and travel writer, editor and artist.

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