Workspace of the Future: More a Living System than a Static Space
Seminar Faculty: Carmelo Zappulla
Faculty Assistants: Sebastian Amorelli & Amin Bigdeli

To understand the workspace of the future we must understand that the 4th Industrial Revolution will not make us humans obsolete and irrelevant, but instead it will liberate us from the tedium of menial and repetitive tasks, essentially liberating us from labour itself. Imagining the workspace of the future requires imagining a radically different world, a World of Universal Basic Income, a World where AI has progressed us technologically to horizons we could not have predicted and where this technology is embedded in every aspect of our daily life. In this future, humans are not a labour force and work is no longer a necessity, yet jobs will not disappear. People who choose to hold them will not be out of need or financial gain, but out of self-realisation and drive. The jobs that humans will hold will foster human innovation and creativity, something that no matter how advanced the AI becomes, it will not be able to achieve in the foreseeable future. So, the question that needs answering is, what does the future of working spaces look like in a future where humans are no longer labour but are instead creative entities, no longer driven by financial motivations but purely by self-realisation?  

Credits: External Reference

Ray Kurzweils predicts that virtual reality will be so immersive that physical workspaces will become obsolete. This can provoke an unprecedented decentralization wherein people will telecommute without the necessity of living in large cities for work or be tied to a particular location for a job.

At the same time, while computer machines will be able to manage better data than any humans, emotional intelligence, and creativity will be the main hope to bring forth a company into the future.

How can working spaces be redefined, enhanced and augmented, in a work environment that is changing?
As the working spaces of the XX century were designed to maximise productivity, even to the point of the worker’s detriment, the working spaces of the future will be designed to maximise creative thought and foster collaboration in a never before seen scale that is even unimaginable in our lifetime. The decoupling of humans from productivity targets and the loss of financial incentive as a drive will have a profound impact on how companies and employers view and treat workers, in other words the tables will turn, and the employees of the future will hold the power, because they will be the most valuable asset the company holds. They will be the ones dreaming, envisioning and discovering the future. The question the companies and employers of the future need to pose is how do I retain and stimulate someone whose purpose is not purely financial but also creative and self-realisation?

Companies will need to develop strategies and spaces that will become creative ecosystems present with a myriad of tools and resources where people are seduced to go create, interact and feel part of something bigger than themselves. The word work has no place in the Workspace of the future. So how then, does this space look like?

First of all, a deep understanding of human beings as biological machines will have to be developed, by comprehending ourselves as biological machines, we will, as with every machine, be able to hack our environment so as to unknowingly become more creative, more empathic, more human. For this, lots of conventions will need to be broken. Recently countless studies have been carried out to try and decipher and control the obesity epidemic across the globe. The findings of these studies are proving beyond a doubt that we are more animal that we like to recognise, our urges and impulses dictated purely by biology and our environment and not so much by rational thought. Can we set up our environment so that once we are immersed in it, it can excite us and thus increase our creative thinking and motivation?

Studies have been carried out to understand the workings of the human creative process. Findings have shown that by stimulating the cognitive process of human thinking, there is an inevitable rise in human creativity. People faced with tasks requiring attention, use of memory queues and problem-solving skills immediately see an increase with activity in the parietal brain region which leads to the recombination and retrieval of knowledge stimulating creative thought and new ideas. The workspace of the future therefore will be a dynamic space in constant change where constant stimulus exists. Stimulus requiring a minor degree of problem solving or interaction will push people to interact and socialise creating a fertile ground for collaboration and mixing of ideas giving rise to new and original thoughts. 

Credits: External Reference

The future of the workspace will resemble more a living system that a static space, in which symbiotic relationships between its users, the space and the interconnected global network will be able to flourish. By analysing speculative technologies of today we can hypothesise future uses, developments and applications and find multiple cues as to what the future workspace could look like. 

These technologies which are in their infancy today, once developed, embedded in everyday life and have become common place they will shape the future of workspace. Advancements in Psychology; Light and colour theory; Interior air quality and environmental control; Materials; Non-static, adaptable, flexible spaces; Smart interactive furniture; Virtual reality and artificial intelligence; Space as a power resource.


Carmelo Zappulla is an Italian architect, graduated with honors and special mention at the University of Palermo. He also earned a PhD (European Mention) with honors from the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya in Barcelona.
He is founder and CEO of the External Reference international studio, based in Barcelona, which deals with architectural and interior design, urban planning, architectural redevelopment and exhibition space design.
The architectural firm, which has always focused on the search for sustainable materials, has adopted a type of “Cradle to Cradle” approach, where architecture is composed of elements that can be inserted into a circular economy that allows the complete re-use of them.
There are numerous international projects realized and built by the studio including the Spanish Pavilion “Spain Explores” for the EXPO2012 of Yeosu, in Korea, the commercial projects that won international awards for the “24Kilates” brands in Bangkok, Thailand, or for ” Presented by ”in Doha, Dubai London and Manchester and the modern building for the Janè Licors in El Vendrell, Tarragona in Spain. He curated the exhibition for Leonardo Da Vinci’s Young MonaLisa exhibition at Palazzo Bastogi in Florence. Other important works will soon be carried out by the studio led by Zappulla, including the building for Desigual and the landscape project for the connection between the seafront and the W-Hotel in the most modern area of La Barceloneta in Barcelona.
He has also directed and won the competition for the exhibition project of the Spanish Pavilion for the EXPO2020 in Dubai which will be developed during 2019-2020. The study of Carmelo Zappulla, External Reference was awarded in 2011 by New Italian Blood as the best Italian architect under 36 and won several international competitions, including the project for the Buenos Aires courts in Milan and the well-known Aerospace Campus in Toulouse in collaboration with Foreign Office Architects.
Carmelo Zappulla is currently director of the Master in experiential design at LCI Barcelona and for 7 years he was the director of the Master of Interior Architecture at the IED (European Design Institute). He collaborates with schools and international architecture institutions, including Strathclyde University, the WSA (The Welsh School of Architecture), the Department of Architecture of the University of Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom. In addition, he is a member of Giras-Tec, an international architecture and society research group at the Universidad Politecnica de Cataluña.
His works have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, during the 12th International Architecture Exhibition, at the National Museum of XXI Century Arts-MAXXI in Rome, at the International Architecture Festival EME3 in Barcelona and at the prestigious EUROPAN 8 competition in Oslo.

Faculty Assistants

Sebastian Amorelli is a Uruguayan architect graduated with honours from ORT University in Montevideo, Uruguay with a Masters in Advanced Architecture from IAAC.
Sebastian is the computational designer for External Reference architects where he specializes in the development of complex geometries through parametric design and digital fabrication. His current research focuses on the development of parametric processes that are able to translate complex systems into design and the fabrication techniques needed to materialize them. His projects have been recognized by different publications, being featured in A+D, Designboom and the Architecture Research Journal of Architecture in Uruguay.
He is also the Tutor of Parametric Tools for the Masters in Experiential Interior Design at LCI Barcelona.

Amin Bigdeli is an Iranian Architect graduated from The Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC).
He was educated at the Institute of Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC), where he was the recipient of the best Self-Sufficient Building master project. He also holds a multidisciplinary master’s degree from UPC in which he focused on new challenges in contemporary design and application of the new technologies for the design of the future.
Based in Barcelona, Spain he has been collaborating with External Reference Architects for several years. Currently working in the Design Department, he manages projects from design to execution. His practice focuses on advanced tools from design to digital Fabrication and AR/VR content. He presently is a PhD candidate at UPC researching on functional implementations of computational Design in living.