The evolution of the design for the Workantile phone booth project has been far more convoluted than expected. Flat-pack plywood wasn’t the initial concept (and, in fact, I tried to avoid that early on). But the elegance of working with just one material, and of having fewer pieces to assemble, makes this seem like the right way to go. One of the design goals for it was that it be something that could be reasonably easily assembled, and the flat-pack design should be that.

Members at Workantile are excited about it, too. There was an internal kickstarter (has kickstarter already become a generic term for crowd-source fundraiser?) to raise the funds for building the initial prototype. This includes materials costs as well as some funds for a one-month membership at Maker Works in order to do the fabrication of the pieces. It was announced on Tuesday afternoon, and now, just a couple days later, it has already met its goal.

On Thursday, at lunch, I presented some of the concepts that are still under consideration. Since it has evolved into an essentially all-plywood design, it became clear that the window openings for the booth could be *anything*. There’s no need for it to be rectangular windows. Typical muntins are linear because they are built-up stick construction. The windows for this are going to be cutouts in wood panels, so it’s a completely different kind of fabrication. The two layers also do not to match each other, so there can be some play between the interior and exterior. Some of the examples for window options include the Millenium Falcon (which is also a sort of Art Nouveau look), a Penrose tiling, and a gear pattern. These are being considered by the Workantile membership, and there will be a final discussion and vote once it’s ready to go to fabrication.

The overall evolution of the design has been interesting. I’ve worked with concepts for this using both steel framing as well as wood. I also looked at a plywood flat-pack version, but at first just as a notional concept, rather than as a real direction for the project. It didn’t seem right to experiment with the ShopBot without any experience with previous projects, although that is the solution that has finally been selected.

The first concept for the phone booth was a steel frame with glass panels, using structural sections (steel angles and the like). However, steel has proved to be very expensive, even for a more simplified option. Then, it seemed that wood frame was going to be the way it needed to go. Using a steel baseplate seemed like a good option that would allow experimentation with different kinds of walls and structure. The metal base would be re-usable, even if the phone booth required a design change. But that would make it a design with multiple materials (which makes fabrication more difficult to coordinate, since it requires multiple sources). A kit of steel parts would be fairly straightforward, but that’s going to be left for version 2.0.

So now, the design is an all-plywood version that only requires some fasteners and a couple of short lengths of 2x lumber, along with the glazing and the curtain and curtain rod. All in all, it’s pretty minimal.

In addition to getting it fabricated, there will also be a public kickstarter to do some further development and refinement of the design and to make the plans available to other coworking spaces and other places that have a need for a small, private booth of this sort.

Another furniture project is moving forward.

Today, I met with the Workantile maintainers group to discuss the phone booth. They were uniformly in favor of moving forward with it, so we are going to build a demonstration version to try out some of the materials and to get a sense of how the whole things may work. I posted some earlier images (on G+) of the phone booth concept for a glass door version. This updated one (click on images for larger versions) envisions a bi-fold wooden door with glass or polycarbonate infill panels.

A shared workspace like Workantile can sometimes be a hard place to work when you need to have phone conversations. I’ve seen times here when it has been so busy that the phone room (we only have the one right now) and all the other remote places and corners that people typically retreat to in order to talk on the phone were in use. A small phone booth will offer some acoustic separation so that more people can have phone conversations without disrupting the rest of the space. Although it’s being designed for use in a coworking space, there are probably lots of other places where something like this would be useful.

The first phase of this is going to be an internal Kickstarter to build one model and see how it works in practice here at Workantile. The first one is not going to be the all-steel frame version, for now. But we’ll do it with some materials we have available and on-hand, like some wire-glass for the side panels, and that will give us a chance to try it with different materials. Door options may include a cloth curtain, a wood bi-fold door with some kind of vision panes, a salvaged wood door we have with full-lite glass, and the all-glass door (shower door style, with the sexy stainless-steel hinges).

From that, we’re probably going to be running a Kickstarter project to fund development, refine the design, and build a couple further examples. The plan is to eventually make the plans for it open-source, but supporters of the Kickstarter wil lhave a chance to have a say in the features incorporated into the base design. Among the options I would like to make available for premiums at higher levels will be customization consultation (for organizations and people who would like their own version of this, but with some modifications; the industrial aesthetic is ideal for Workantile, but it may not be for everyone) and a full, pre-manufactured version of it, including all the pieces necessary for building one of these packaged up and shipped to someone who wants to buy one and put it together as an off-the-shelf system (much like an Ikea product, but presumably somewhat more robust). Another Kickstarter option might be to request a particular feature be incorporated as part of the set of plans. I don’t think we’ll have a fully pre-assembled version available, but if there’s enough call for it, that could be another possibility, I suppose.

The whole thing will probably be a couple months away, once we’ve had a chance to try it out and see how the basic version works.

Mighty Good Coffee has announced that they are moving their cafe out of the front of the Workantile Exchange space and relocating a few blocks north. For WorkEx, this means that there are going to be a couple hundred additional square feet to be integrated into the coworking space, and I’ve talked with Mike and Trek about helping with the space planning and design of the remodeled space.

It’s more than a little bit appropriate (to my mind, anyhow) that one of my first projects is going to be a coworking space; my thesis project was to extend the (still new) idea of cohousing to work space. I was excited that a coworking space was coming to Ann Arbor when I first heard about it. I have found it a useful and congenial space to work since I’ve been out on my own. And now, I am looking forward to helping make it an even better space.

I’m planning to hold a charrette at Workantile (tentatively on August 26, after the usual Thursday pizzas for lunch) to discuss ideas for the new space, and how best to make use of it. I plan on that being mostly an information gathering and idea generating process. These are a few of the questions I have thought about:

Street presence – MightyGood has been a buffer to the street for us. How will the change affect things? Will someone need to be doorkeeper/greeter/host? Do people want to “work in the window” or is some kind of vestibule or buffer be more desirable?

How much public interface is wanted? New members may still come from walk-ins. How accessible is the space going to be for the general public?

MightyGood seating – the seating area for MightyGood connects to the shop, but also has a door to the building lobby. Does this get closed off, or is it useful to keep? The whole space has 4 points of entry (front door, back door, side doors, and MightyGood seating). Should any of these be closed off?

Permanent presence – with MightyGood, there was someone watching the space and the street during their business hours. Is there a way to make sure someone is closing up at night?

New work configurations – are there other kinds of work spaces that would be useful for WorkEx? Would alcoves or nooks that could be used for meeting, without being a closed meeting room be useful? Are more phone rooms needed? Do the current options (stepping into the hall, the “Agony Room,” taking a call at your seat, etc.) meet current needs?

There seems to be a preference among a sizable number of people for sitting next to a wall; is more wall space needed?

Does display space make sense for some part of the new configuration? Will there still be artwork from WSG (or elsewhere)?

Discussion here is fine (I don’t mind getting comments here at all), but if you are interested in participating, I hope you will be able to come to the charrette. And I’ll post some followup about this afterwards.