NeoCon 2019 may be over, but the buzz about the annual commercial trade show has certainly not died down. This year marked the debut of The NeoCon Plaza, an experiential outdoor environment located on theMart’s South Drive. Designed by Gensler, the NeoCon Plaza offered attendees a place to connect, collaborate, relax, and recharge (literally) while taking in Chicago’s iconic Riverwalk and cityscape. While it was open to the public, it also provided amenity space for several private events throughout the trade show’s duration.
The Gensler Chicago team started with the idea of an “urban boardwalk” and developed this into several different “vignettes” of space along the length of the South Drive. These vignettes were then outfitted with pieces from Haworth, Haworth Collection, Janus et Cie, and Cappellini to provide a huge variety of furnishings that could facilitate either solitary or group work time or relaxation. The entire space was constructed in just 2 days.
“When we first started talking about this project, we did a lot of research on how the outdoors can have a huge impact on productivity and overall wellbeing,” says John Scott, senior workplace design strategist at Haworth, and a key member of developing the NeoCon Plaza. In fact, he found in his research that being outdoors can increase creativity by 60%. No wonder the industry has seen a growing number of outdoor workspaces pop up in recent years. Scott also points out that only five-to-ten years ago, our technological abilities could not easily accommodate outdoor work. Today, it’s a totally different story with stronger WiFi networks and Bluetooth capabilities.
“I think what we’re seeing today is just the start of a new normal,” says Scott. “The way work happens today, it’s not confined to four walls of an office. What we’ve created at the NeoCon Plaza is a demonstration of how the outdoors can be leveraged to support people in the day-to-day working lives. Especially in an urban context, these kinds of productive but restorative workplace spaces are so important.”
Looking towards the future, Scott said he hoped the NeoCon Plaza will happen year after year. He speculated that maybe in the future, the design of the space could be determined by a competition. Overall, he says, he hopes that it will expose the public to NeoCon in a new way and encourage more interest in expertly designed outdoor spaces.