My Palo Alto

Work Place
Photo Documentation September 10, 2000
Added Photos July 7, 18 & 24, 2002

During two years of use, both my work and environment has evolved. These changes are documented below.


It is a popular myth that the environment in which someone works does little to effect their productivity and creativity. It is assumed that offices and work areas relate more to status and “who you are” rather than to what work you do and what supports that work. Somehow, the human organism is supposed to function independently of it’s environment like some disembodied soul.


Today, KnowledgeWorkers are being squeezed into smaller and smaller spaces. There are few options for personal expression and having around the information and objects that stimulate and delight. Individuals and teams disappear in a sea of dull sameness and misappropriated symbolism.


All this is done in the name of efficiency, economics and protecting the image of the corporate architecture. The language which describes these places is more that of feedlots and prisons than that of exuberant creativity. There is much talk of a new economy, but if it be coming, it is being designed in the rabbit warrens of the industrial age. One might wonder if this might effect the result.


You spend half you life where you work. How practical is it? Do you like it? Does it support your work? Does it express your world view? Is it a place where you want to go? Would you go there if it was not for the moneymaking function?


If not, why not? And, why do you put up with it?


My work place is at the cross roads of a retail space, the group process area and the “path” that winds from the front patio all the way through the Palo Alto KnOwhere Store out to the side and rear parking lots. I am 25 paces away from the front patio where I often sit and make telephone calls. I am in an active, vital public place in an island of productive rest. Prospect and refuge. Access and privacy. With a few paces, I can easily change my environment and degree of interaction with coworkers. Within my own domain, I have room for a multitude of different activities - each requiring a different set of space, furniture, tools and ambiance.


I have several work stations which allows me to multitask without putting work away. The appropriate tools are within easy reach at each station. There is room for private dialog with several visitors and a WorkWall for working big and displaying my work. Inside my Pod, I have storage and bookshelves for 500 books and over 50 square feet of flat work surface to hold project materials. Adjacent to my Pod, there are retail shelves for the 500 books, tools and materials accessible to the participants in my ReBuilding the Future course.


It is a stimulating and relaxing place to work. I can totally reconfigure it in a matter of minutes.


My total footprint is 18 x 18 feet. Large you say? Not when you look at it. This footprint supports my work as CEO of MG Taylor, design principal in an architectural firm and a work interiors/furniture manufacturing firm, and facilitator/educator with a robust client load for a variety of organizations (MG Taylor, AI, KnOwhere, SFIA). I have no full time support person and do my own scheduling and communication/correspondence functions. I do my own drafting, web pages and client/customer interface. In fact, my space is small compared to that used by my peers and their support people.


Instead of thinking about holding down the number of square feet per worker as a budget item, facility planners should be thinking about the revenues generated per square foot against the total (and real) cost of the square footage actually used. Instead of thinking about minimizing the cost of each piece of furniture, the focus should be on the financial performance of the whole space including everyone and everything working in it. This is, of course, retail store thinking - and that is what I work in - a retail store for the mind. Good retail stores have to create a pleasant environment for the customer, our spaces create it for the producers as well - and for the same reason. It makes economic sense. And, beyond the economics, it makes human sense. The cost/income performance of my space blows away the most economy-focused workplace that can be found. My space is a knowledge-factory - most workplaces are single-function ghettoes.


Every place should have an entry and this is mine. It is not a hard closed entry but one that establishes a sense of moving from one mode to another. This is an interface issue. A punctuation. A ceremony. When I am in my Pod I am in a private place. When someone approaches, they know it is private and they also know that it is friendly and inviting. It is a permeable membrane not a wall. Sitting in a high traffic area, as I do, gives me constant feedback on this issue of balance between privacy and openness. The flexibility of our furniture allows me to fine tune the entry so that it continues to work. I know what is going on around me and can choose the level of participation and interaction that works best for any moment and task.





Once inside my environment, the world changes. Here is a space that can be adjusted in an almost unlimited number of ways to fit the specific work being done yet always feels complete the way it is. I am surrounded by my tools, reference materials - everything an arms length away. Toys and other fun, stimulating, objects are there to engage the mind and hand. The outside recedes but is not lost.


From above, my Pod - like it treats the horizontal spaces around it - both screens and invites interaction. Nothing is completely cut off but a sense of privacy and shelter is maintained. Again: Prospect and Refuge. Light filters in and out of this space, making an enclosure - but one that feels like there is a world beyond to explore. Those on the balcony have a sense of my activities without impinging on what I am doing. These are subtle gradations of interaction - all controllable by those working in the environment. Community is created without violence to individual space, time and growth.


Another view, a little further down the balcony, reveals how the Pod sits at the intersection of the retail and group process areas of the KnOwhere Store. The “negative” space created by the round Pod and the rectilinear building interaction provides niches for drafting board and my personal retail area - which also servers as a quite reading area for my students. The WorkWall that screens my space from the public areas composes a small sitting area, provides a wall to sketch on, and - on the outside - a display space for my intellectual goods. This is my billboard strategically placed along the well traveled path from the front patio to the interior of the Store. The angle of the WorkWall creates a slight tightening at the entry and then opens up to embrace the drafting area beyond. This serves to “slow down” entry, making it a more formal event, while encouraging movement to the Pod’s “backyard” of adjacent work and resource spaces. The drafting area also opens a “side door” out of my personal areas - an informal way to come and go.


The entire assemblage is a “room within a room” a technique develop by Wright at the turn of the 20th Century.


Still looking from above - and to the right - the KnOwhere Radiant Room (at least as it was on this date) can be seen. The Pod that you see at the left is not mine. My area is directly to the left and rear of the picture. The Pod you see is the present screen between the group work area and the front patio of the Store.





When this shot was taken, the Radiant Room was being set up for an Executive Retreat/Silicon Valley Walkabout for the Knight Ridder Newspapers. This was a PatchWorks exercise that involved our entire facility with visits to and from organizations in San Jose, Palo Alto, San Francisco and Berkeley. I was involved in different activities and, because of my location, was able to keep a sense of things as I worked on other projects in between my active involvement with Knight Ridder. For two days, interactive activities of various sorts were ebbing and flowing in and out of the Store. A very different workplace than what is commonly misnamed as “normal.” Working at KnOwhere is like working in a “replacement” city in Jane Jacobs terms.


Back outside we can follow the path from the Patio through the retail area to the “back door” of my work area and then onto the spaces behind my Pod. In the distance of 40 paces, you will travel through a number of different zones, functions and spaces. Keep in mind, however, that other than the exterior walls, the columns and the balcony itself, everything you see can be moved and reconfigured in a matter of a few hours - a great deal of it in a few minutes. When we work with groups we actually do this as the work progresses and requirements change. The front doors of the Store fold open to blend the interior environment with the street. In this picture, one bank of doors are open - the same can happen to the immediate left. The wood trellis and patio tiles continue into the Store drawing you into the interior. Cool breezes are drawn in also, pulled through the space and exhausted out the round, opening glass dome at the center of the environment. Nature and the urban scene interact with the activities within the space. The transitions are subtle and can be adjusted by the users. This is not how most work environments are. Typically, the implicit premise is that “distractions” have to be guarded against and the corporate jewels protected. This is environment on the defense. The KnOwhere idea is different. It embraces variety and change. It engages and interacts with the world. It is an active place.


Inside, the retail area on the right looks toward my Pod - the Radiant Room (group work) area is on the left. The view into my Pod is arrested by my “billboard” which shows past and current work. As you progress, you can turn left into the Radiant Room, to the right into the retail space or continue on to my back yard work area. These areas flow into one another, however, each is distinct. Each makes a foreground and background for the other. There is an integrating armature and a high variety of specific places. Intimate niches fit into abundant spaces making a human built ecology of functions and experiences. Transitions are distinct yet smooth - causal and easy.


The view into the Radiant Room is framed by the second floor balcony and the opening dome skylight beyond it. The eye is never completely stopped - never - somewhere, like life, there is another idea, another place to explore. Yet, you are never left “exposed” and vulnerable. The message from the building is an invitation to travel at your own pace to seek what you will. To participate where you can. This capasity of facilitating movement through space is brilliantly demonstrated in Frank Lloyd Wright’s VC Morris shop built in 1948.


The KnOwhere Store is, in reality, a physical and virtual portal into the world of collaborative work. It is a place to work with Group Genius and a way-station to meet other travelers. A place to equip for new travels. As such, it an ideal location for me to have my workplace. It is like camping out on the river where the wagon trains going West are assembling for the future. Many would never think of having an “office” in such a public place. But what better place than IN the market?


I cannot think of having an office in some shut away place devoid of community and interaction. With our way, the research lab and design studio are at the point of sale and product delivery - what an idea!


Below is my “side door” entry, past the billboard to the drafting areas and my personal retail “store” beyond. The workspace on the balcony above me is Gail’s workplace - we often talk to on another over the rail as neighbors in an urban setting will do. We can keep a sense of what the other is about without conscience awareness or effort.





By the way - notice the “T” shirt. You have to have a “T” shirt.


What you are looking at is a high variety environment - one that deliberately designed to be restful as well. The proof is when people can spend 12 hours here and walk out energized and tranquil.


The view back from Gail’s area clearly shows that path we just traveled from the front of the Store to my area. The front Patio can be seen though the windows and doors - You can see how easy it is the totally change your environment by going outside to sit and work. We planted the trees in the front when we recreated this building in 1997. One more summer and the entire front of the building will be a canopy of lacy shade. You can connect to the Internet via our T1 line from the front patio.


We use a great deal of wireless in this environment and this small technology advancement bestows enormous increases in freedom. This is important to remember. The central idea of our work at AI, KnOwhere and MG Taylor is how the integration of work processes, environments and technology tools can augment human genius. Every part is important but no part will do it alone. It is the whole that has to work. Work environments, today, are too often fragmented. Many reasonable and often credible efforts fail to add up to anything significant. This results in dull places devoid of power. These environments suck up human energy rather than infusing it. The results are all around you and declared practical. Don’t accept it.


Back at ground level here is the view from my personal retail area past the drafting board and into the general retail area. The shelves at the time of this picture taking were just set up. They will be filled with those books and tools which I personally use and sponsor. The kind of retailing we do here is not based on what sells but are selections of what we personally use. We believe that this is the value added aspect that we bring to our associates, clients and customers.





Notice that this is a small space. It gets wider as the Pod curves away from the bookshelves. The shape of a space is an is important as it’s absolute size. The wall on the left just begs for some posters and art pieces and will soon have them.


The purpose of this niche is to provide a quite place to browse, sit and read. My ReBuilding the Future Course covers a broad body of knowledge with is outlined in a reading list of 500 carefully selected books. This is a self-contained spot for those interested in the materials to find what they want.


In addition, materials and tools useful for documentation are to be found here. It is a surprisingly intimate thing to put on display the very personal books you read and the tools you use. Turning back around, and stepping a few paces under the balcony, you are in a team work area. I often use this area in conjunction with my “meetings.” The WorkWall beyond is the new AI Foundation II Series rolling, curved WorkWall, in this case, displaying materials for the Knight Ridder session and screening the rotunda area under the dome. This area behind my Pod is a pleasant, intimate space that can serve up to 20 people, in one group, comfortably or two groups of about 10. The low ceiling presents a nice contrast with the higher spaces on found on two sides.


If you have wondered what is up on the second floor, here is the short tour. The second level has group work areas and private work areas for members of iterations, KnOwhere and MG Taylor. In addition, there are spaces for office hotellers and companies in startup. PhotoAccess incubated here in 1998/1999 growing from one person to over 20 when they moved out to their own facilities. Beyond the table is the iterations Library area employing the AI CubeOffice system. On the other side is an incubation space for a new enterprise moving in the week these pictures were taken. This is the fourth new venture that has occupied this space since we opened the Palo Alto KnOwhere in late 1997.


The view out of their windows is toward the rear of the Store which is parking and landscape. Skylights bring additional light in from above. The balcony looking down into the Radiant Room and retail area is about 20 paces behind these pictures. As my work is closely connected with iteration’s research, I use the library on the second level and often work up there with associates and clients. All of these areas are intimate to how I experience my personal work space. In a real sense, I feel like I work in a 20,000 square foot environment that is almost totally mine. Yet, I share it with up to 50 people, on a daily basis, and over a hundred more when events are taking place. Activity levels vary - and this is one of the more pleasant aspects of KnOwhere - However, it almost never feels crowded. The few times it does is because a really big bash is going on and it is better to join up!


The KnOwhere venue is a completely unique way of managing space. The physical environment is different and so is the way work is conducted. It is more like an ecology of people, organizations and activities than a sterile organization of ghetto-like cubes and prison-like conference rooms. You have to accommodate more in a space like this and you get a great deal more in return.


We get used to it around here and take it as normal - which it is! Then, we go to a typical environment and it is shocking.


One final stop back downstairs inside my Pod area and our tour is done. There is a standup work station I use for reading and hand note taking. I also keep my hand text scanner there. The furniture piece I use for this work is a prototype of the AI “BatWing” work station.


The components of this piece cantilever off a column and each can be attached in a variety of heights in any order desired. The column, then, can move up and down as a unit from sitting top standing height. People sit down too much in their work environments and this leads to back troubles and other to be avoided unpleasant things. Movement is necessary to thinking and health and should be subtly promoted by the way the environment is designed and arranged. I do not use this unit often however it is important to me when I do. Without it, the materials I use there would have to be put away. This is inconvenient and too typical of the traditional work space. Having to take out and put away impedes the flow of work. KnowledgeWorkers need lots of work spaces each organized for a different work process.


Another aspect of the BatWing is that it both encloses the sitting area intimate to the Pod and defines the space intimate to the Drafting table. Because the BatWing has several surfaces and drawers that swing out, I am able to store drawing materials, tools and supplies on it’s back side to be close at hand when I am drawing. Too often the mistake is to arrange tools just in front and to the sides of a work station. This forces the work flow and causes the worker to usually stare at a wall or partition just a few feet in front of the nose. Bad.


At each of my work areas I am surrounded by tool, display and storage units, I work in a full 360 degree environment. My view is open in, at least, several degrees of freedom - up, out, right, left.


I am sheltered but not confined.


How do the Pod and CubeOffice systems work in a typical office building footprint? This question was answered by my original 1990 sketch which demonstrated that standard densities can be accomplished while accomplishing far greater utilty, flexibility and ambiance.




July 2002 Note: Several elements of this 1990 concept were realized with the construction of the Vanderbilt NavCenter in 2002.




There is no real financial barrier to people working in far better environments than they do. Environments that fit their personalities better, provide more utility and adapt better. It has to be understood that the standards in place are self referential - they merely support themselves. They do not promote or measure true productivity. They are, in fact poor substitutes for direct measures. They are budget focussed rather than productivity supportive. They promote many hidden, negative, unintended consequences, the costs of which, are not factored into the equations.


Architect Eugene Tsui puts it this way:

”It is the birthright of every human being to live in a world of beauty: a world that is concordant with the needs and aspirations of the innermost and highest elemental powers in humankind and is expressive of the supreme intelligence and spiritual powers manifest in nature.

”Those who would be true to their inner, higher selves must, necessarily, possess a continence of dignity and love in daily living and through their work. Work, thus imbued, is but a glimmer of our latent spiritual powers and is truly a reflection of the invisible workings of God made visible. It is the nature and substance of all that is and all that is becoming.

”It is our responsibility to illuminate the darkness of ignorance that permeates our world and aspire to greater insights and discoveries, thus deepening our understanding of ourselves and the world around us, of which we are an integral part.

”We need not more security-minded persons, not more image seekers, not more obedience to the established pattern of living, but men and women of vision, who see the urgency of a new way of living: a life in communion with the benison of beauty in nature and the intrinsic dignity and interconnectedness of human life.

”We are an alembic and are powerfully creative individuals. This is our divine gift. Yet, we have lost our direction and have become obdurate and fearful. We wish to reach out from our loneliness but we are afraid. In our fear, we take pains to conform unquestionably to the dictates of society. Here is where our natural powers become subservient to the opinions of the hour. We lose ourselves to the imitative process that abounds everywhere, and the world loses the potential for profound change.”

Evolutionary Architecture - Nature As a Basis For Design

The importance questions are the ones that I asked at the beginning of this essay: “You spend half you life where you work. How practical is it? Do you like it? Does it support your work? Does it express your world view? If not, why not? And, why do you put up with it?”


The test is: would you spend a vacation in a place like your work environment? If the answer is no, what does that imply?


Our architecture is the direct expression of our values. There is no escaping it. Our environment is the sum of a million choices we make one at a time. It, in turn, acts to shape us in a million ways. Architecture is not a visual art - it is an experiential art. The place where you work is the expression of what you stand for and the tool by which you project your values out into the world by productive effort. There is no neutrality here - only expression.


The workplace is a complex alchemy of many factors. It limits or augments you in both subtle and profound ways. Choose carefully.




Paul Lyons, lead;
Bill Blackburn, product manager;
Matt Taylor, concept

Sponsors Matt Taylor and Bill Blackburn
Design Team Paul Lyons
Bill Blackburn
Brian Ross
User/Owner AI
Architect n/a
Builder AI
PM Brian Ross
System AI WorkWalls and WorkFurniture
Location @ the Palo Alto KnOwhere Store
Year Installed: 1997 Documented: 2000

Palo Alto KnOwhere Store:

Matt Taylor
Sponsors Gail Taylor
Matt Taylor
Roxy Rapp, Developer
Design Team Matt Taylor
Bill Blackburn
Inga Hanks
User/Owner MG Taylor Corporation/KnOwhere Stores
Architects John Norway , Architect of Record
Builder CEO Construction
PM Glen McFearson
Matt Taylor
System AI: WorkWalls and WorkFurniture and technical systems design
Media Consultant:
Tim Siglin
Location Palo Alto, CA
Year 1996 - 1997

The act of making enviornment is the act of defining the self. It is intimate. It both points the way to what you want to become and it facilites your path to becoming it. In architecture, vision and reality are one. Architecture is the environment in which we create our future experiences.


I pay attention to my work environment not because it is my profession to make architecture but because I am aware that I am programming my own future responses by making the habitat I work in. This context will influence my world view and sense of well being - positively or negatively; my work process will be seamless and smooth - or less so; those that work with me will be able to see what I am about - or will have to be told; the enterprise me will be profitable - or not; I am living in an environment that reflects my values - or surrounded constantly by the reminder of my failure to accomplish them. Architecture is fact-based. It is what you have chosen out of a world of options.


July 7, 2002


Added to my Pod area, since the original set up in 2000, is a much enhanced “back yard” with my roll top desk (for notebook journal writing), a sitting area (for quite reading) and a “daybed” for naps and overnight stays.


These area are high in “refuge” designed to provide relief and variety to extremely long workdays. This aspect of work-rest is one that is often overlooked in the modern workplace. It is not considered “businesslike” - although given recent business news one wonders what the modern definition of business really is. Recent research has indicated that a 20 minute midday nap slows the degradation of performance and a one hour nap restores performance to the morning levels. The relationship of naps, and quite reading breaks to the gestation period of creativity has long been acknowledged. Long, sustained work sessions are part of modern work and the innovation process. How this works in the office setting is a serious issue.


In January, Gail and I purchased a home in Gualala, a Northern California coastal community about 150 miles from Palo Alto. Gail, who is starting Tomorrow Makers, is now there most of the time. I continue to travel a great deal and work at knOwhere when I am in town. This move prompted changes to my knOwhere space.


The group process breakout area, behind my Pod has become the knOwhere-iterations library. This moved down from the second floor to make room for more incubation and office-hoteling space. This works for me in two ways. It makes it quieter in my back yard and the resources are closer for my use.


View into the Library from the side Entry of knOwhere. The rolling, folding WorkWall turns the Library into a breakout area during DesignShop events. My area is on the other side of the book cases.
View from the Atrium and dome area. The curved book cases create a niche for my roll top desk (shown below).
I now have 4 workstations, three places to sit and read, a place to nap or sleep without having to travel home or pay what amounts to about $20 or more dollars an hour at a hotel.
The day bed is raised providing book shelving and storage under.
Intersection of the Library, Music playing area and the lateral supports for the second level. The Library book cases are to the left.
A shoji screen opens to my private sitting/reading area. A reverse curve in the Library book cases creates a niche for my roll top desk - a place to write and do business bookkeeping.
Sitting in foreground, Pod to the right, daybed against the wall, roll top to the left under the low ceiling of the second floor level.
In my mind the roll top design is hard to beat. Great presence and very practical. I have had this one since 1982. It is solid oak.
The back side of the Library book cases provide a private, restful place for personal work. I usually start my day here working in my bound, hand drawn/lettered Notebooks.
Raised day bed. It fills the “negative space” between the Pod and the wall. The translucency of the Pod prevents the space from closing in.
The “zen view” from the bed looking back toward the balcony and open dome space of the knOwhere Store. Private but open.
Entry to my Pod. I have added the desk and an iMac my first desktop computer in over ten years. Increased architectural drafting and Apple’s new design pushed me over the hill. The WorkWall (to the right) has been flared out (at the drafting board side) to provide more comfortable sitting for guests.
The iMac swivels around for work with other machines and media, as well as, display-shows for guests.
I use the Mac PowerBook for travel, building this web site and e-mail. I can access my server, back up disks, printers and my iMac remotely. All together this gives me about 200 gigs of storage space.
The AI drafting table with swinging file cabinet and tool drawer. Scott’s drafting board is to the right.
View back to personal library area and the day bed. I have shelving for about 1,000 books in my area including the Pod itself - all reachable within a few footsteps.


The purpose of the knOwhere Store is multifaceted: it is a retail space (where all ValueWeb members can sell their goods and services); it is a place to deliver many of these services; It is a demonstration place - a place to experiment and try new organizational, technical, process and social options. Everything @knOwhere is used for real work and everything is for sale to clients and customers. As such, it is a LAB for developing and delivering workplace and home work-environments.


The over specialized, socially isolated and mono-dimensional workplace is an artifact of the 20th Century. It will not last long into the 21st. It did bring discipline and order to work. Fine. We have learned these lessens. It takes a new order of discipline to have both humanity and efficiency. It is time to create the effective workplace.


knOwhere is one place I work. I spend about a third of my time here. Presently, it is my home base. In time, it will become one “room” in my Bay Area work-living place.


The reintegration of living and work, community and work, productive effort and leisure (in the serious aspect of the word) is an important challenge. A great deal of the mistakes and abuses that take place in the workplace and in business are the result of forcing a dichotomy between these facets of life. People end up in work-ghettos and become socially isolated. The high touch feedback loops and severed when this happens. Everything become an abstraction. There is no time for thinking and contemplation. Life become parsed into competing time segments. Discontinuity reins.


Architecture matters. It creates a structure to human affairs. And, structure wins. Architecture becomes built HABIT. It should be viable, evolving, HABITAT.


Gallery of Pictures

April 8, 2004 Note: with the closing of the Palo Alto knOwhere Store in 2003 [link], I moved my office to a space adjacent to the Vanderbilt NavCenter in Nashville [link]. This space is an old office environment which will be redone as part of the expansion of the VCBH now scheduled to start sometime after July of 2004. While not nearly the setting of the knOwhere Store (at least not yet until we redo it!), this move has enabled me to arrange my workspace to support a very different set of work requirements in a greatly altered market space [link]. Concurrent with this move we designed a new generation POD [link] which is key element in a couple of new projects:

The Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital Executive Offices


The WorkConservatory


Another project relevant to the idea of personal workspace in support of the executive routine and knowledge-work is the office for Bill Stead which was installed April 6th through 8th at the VCBH.

Office for Bill Stead

Return to INDEX

Matt Taylor
Palo Alto
October 4, 2000


SolutionBox voice of this document:



posted: October 4, 2000

revised: March 8, 2004
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note: this document is about 99% finished

Copyright© Matt Taylor 2000, 2001, 2002, 2004


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