England’s “Great Exhibition” of 1851, notable for its gleaming Crystal Palace, was the first of its kind to specifically showcase manufactured products to a wide audience. NeoCon is Chicago’s contemporary successor.
This past June, NeoCon brought together more than 50,000 design professionals, from manufacturers to salesmen to curators and the curious, to explore future trends. This time around, our Crystal Palace was the Merchandise Mart. Every floor and showroom exhibited furniture, flooring and the design of the future, all posed as ready for use iterations of the office of the future, with every space a potential surface for spontaneous creation or interaction. The end goal is to draw thousands more to visit our city, to foster dialogue and relationships, and to showcase Chicago as a center of innovation and design.
Trends to Watch from NeoCon 2016
1. Constructing with Felt
Felt pervades with its distinct textural charm. The noise-absorbing fabric stretches along the backs of furniture or floors (via BOLYU), padding cubicle dividers, or even swathed along walls (see Chicago brand Designtex’s bespoke office backdrops). The appeal is all in the tactile experience, whether the visual texture or the comforting surface.
2. Texturing the Office Space
Surprising textures reveal themselves in the interstitial spaces of walls, floors and even desks. Vitality is created with splashes of green in wall planters popping out of recesses, standalone waterfall walls and stretched dimensions of office plants, e.g., architectural vines spreading from floor to ceiling. Made by Design’s multi-fabric floorscapes shift with the mood of the carpeted space and their function, while AIS’ screenprinted textures make simple, illusive paper veneers of wood-grain or brushed concrete.
3. Rethinking Room Divisions
Separated and individual panels break down the cohesive whole into usable, transformable segments. A desk is made of interchangeable parts, and lounge furniture can be shifted from meeting space to sanctuary. Knoll’s modular, set-up-anywhere furniture creates a distinct contrast to Coalesse’s sultry air luxury environments (pre-fashioned intimate spaces with wood-slat privacy dividers).
4. Desk Silhouettes
Desks show the urge to break out of expected geometries. Automatic desks with smartphone-controlled height adjustment offer stepped, ziggurat-like silhouettes. Sharp, flexible desk lamps contrast the neutral grays and woven textures of other desk setups. Beyond Okamura’s wavy cubicle presentation, the most striking perhaps is a design based on the rings of a crosscut tree. (Gregory Maher)
Gregory works in community programming at Northwestern University and contributes to Newcity, The Cresset and The Seen. He formerly coordinated the interviews section at KNSTRCT magazine. His particular interests are the relationship between community history and design, the structure of information and design in the digital world, vernacular architecture, online exhibitions and new methods of digital storytelling.