A couple years ago, after research about the health risks of prolonged sitting came to light, a wave of standing desks hit the market. Big companies like Ikea and Steelcase have rolled out standing desk designs; others are even attached to treadmills or recumbent bikes.
While these certainly get workers up and off their derrieres, once an employee selects one of these models (and presumably goes through the company’s facilities manager to get it installed) she’s married to that particular product and posture.
“What if we had an environment without chairs and tables, and we don’t think in these archetypes, but in terms of activities?” asks Ronald Rietveld, a partner at the Dutch design studio RAAAF.
So When the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands put out a call for local designers to think about new versions of shared office spaces, RAAAF turned in blueprints for “The End of Sitting,” a glacier-like series of boulders and surfaces that would replace traditional office furniture. “I think he didn’t expect the plans we came up with,” Rietveld says. “We are really focusing on a longer-term vision.”
RAAAF, along with Dutch artist Barbara Visser, wanted to create a workspace that would encourage a range of movements and poses. To prepare for the construction of “The End of Sitting”—which is currently a live installation in the Looiersgracht 60 exhibit space in Amsterdam—their team studied body postures to find out what’s actually comfortable, and what’s only comfortable in theory. Leaning into a faceted nook might sound comfortable, but without another wall to brace your feet on, it could be tantamount to a boot camp wall squat.
A multi-tool for not sitting down
The designers are especially interested in supported standing, which standing desks don’t offer. Supported standing, like upright leaning, can engage the muscles—hopefully enough to prevent the drop in fat-burning enzymes that occurs during long periods of sitting—without tiring out the employee’s legs and lower back quite so much. The maze-like series of angled and tapered frames create an infinite number of leaning spots, for workers of any height. There are no fixed desks, so employees might find it natural to roam around and be active.
That feature is also one of the obvious impracticalities of “The End of Sitting.” Without desks, how do staffers keep track of supplies, notes, or work documents? Without offices or conference rooms, how can people have meetings that don’t disrupt everyone else’s concentration? “The End of Sitting” is both an art installation and an experiment, so it’s not actually concerned with answering those questions. Instead, Rietveld says this is “about showing a different way of thinking.”
RAAAF has invited rotating groups of workers—philosophers, writers, psychology students, designers, and artists, to name a few examples—to post up in the “The End of Sitting” and offer feedback. Researchers from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands are documenting the results and will be publishing the findings next spring. So far, Rietveld says, most of their guinea pig guests have reported an uptick in productivity and in physical fatigue—which is what RAAAF wants. “They have comments. This could be softer, there’s no place for my coffee cup—there’s a thousand things that could be improved, but that’s not what this is about,” he says. “The most important thing for us is that it’s offering more activity and more productivity.”