DeskTop, the photography exhibition exploring our workspaces

With launch night on Thursday 2nd November, 2017, Walter Knoll has unveiled a new photography exhibition entitled ‘DeskTop’ that aims to investigate the future of our work spaces. We went to view the exhibition and find out what answers – or questions – can be drawn from these intimate photographs.

Arriving at Walter Knoll’s Clerkenwell showroom on a crisp November morning, the first thing that catches the eye is the eight large photographs taking up one side of the room, neatly arranged on the wall. Perfectly at home amongst the exquisite designer furniture, the eight snapshots are what make up Walter Knoll’s new photography exhibition: DeskTop. With a curious object resting on shelves underneath each of them, the photos are intriguing, revealing profiles of London’s leading creative, architects and designers - all presented through their workspaces.

Those inspirational few who have had their spaces photographed are Serpentine gallery director Yana Peel; architect Sir Nicholas Grimshaw; curator Johanna Agerman- Ross; designer Luke Pearson of Pearson Lloyd; architect Matthew Blain of Hassell; architect and designer Sevil Peach; Wallpaper* Brand and Content Manager Tony Chambers; and designer Mike Holland of Foster + Partners.

Curated by Jonathan Openshaw and photographed by Anton Rodriguez (author of Residents: Inside the Iconic Barbican Estate, 2016), the exhibition explores the ways that physical office spaces remain paramount in the digital age – but there is also the lingering question of how workspaces need to change and adapt in order to stay relevant.

Johanna Agerman Ross' desk

With a cup of tea in hand, it is easy to get lost in the intricacies of the photographs. Each workspace is different: desks face walls, windows or open areas, and feature various forms of technology - or none at all. Colours, sketches and open books dominate some tables; others are sparse, giving the impression that their owner is there fleetingly, but still comes back to roost every now and again.

Adding to the personalities we have begun to decode are the objects each participant has chosen – these include a copy of the weekend FT Times, a Roget’s Thesaurus and an Equilibre d’Hermes magnifying glass. The brief was that the object should “capture an element of [each individual’s] way of working”, and every item is as individual and surprising as the last.

 Equilibre d’Hermes magnifying glass and Loupe lens, Tony Chambers' items

The exhibition was something that had been “permeating around my head for a while,” curator Jonathan Openshaw explains. “With so many shifts happening in the work place, business and leisure are very much blurring into each other. Big disruptive forces [like] technologies and demographics [mean] we’re really looking at workplaces that need to encompass people from eighteen to eighty years old.”

Walter Knoll have always taken a leadership role when it comes to the future of the office. “Our working world is going through change. The design of a workplace is becoming even more significant” says Markus Benz, CEO of Walter Knoll. “We work with some of the best designers and architects globally to create workplace products that are ahead of their time.” After they have spent so much time researching the topic, the Walter Knoll showroom is the perfect environment for an exhibition that asks so many questions of how the workplace needs to adapt.

Sir Nicholas Grimshaw's desk

One thing that is noticeable throughout the photographs is their similarities. Though the personal touch of each workspace is obvious, it is the common items – books, stationary, and notepads – that draw the exhibition together. But what makes these more traditional elements of a working environment so fundamental? Partly, these objects give us the opportunity for ‘slow thinking’. “Deep creative thinking will come from a moment of pause,” Openshaw muses. “Everyone is embracing the digital, but there are also desperately, really strong attachments to the physical and tactile”.

During the launch on 2nd November, there was a half-hour panel discussion on the future of work spaces, which opened the floor to personal conversations around the topic. Leaving the exhibition and stepping out into Charterhouse Square, the lasting impression is that the exhibition poses more questions than it has answers. DeskTop effortlessly provides viewers a platform for discussion and debate around this idea of how we balance or marry the advancing changes in technology with the communal workspace environment.

“Our messiness and inefficiency is what is going to make us unique,” Openshaw states, discussing the future of the workplace. If so, our need for creativity, the ability to ‘slow think’,and our love of physical tools means our environment and surroundings – including the very desks we sit at – will always be vital to our work.

Mathew Blain's desk

The DeskTop exhibition runs until the 30th November at Walter Knoll's Clerkenwell showroom. 

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