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Office Parks of a Different Nature

A Breakout session in Madison Square Park, New York City (Source: Laura Forlano)

What if your office was a park? That’s essentially what the Breakout! Festival in New York City is trying to foster by setting up temporary workspaces in parks, plazas and other public spaces throughout the city.

Breakout! is essentially an on-line networking tool that helps people and teams locate stimulating, serene and serendipitous places to work in the city. Last summer, the concept was instituted in a few locations around Manhattan from public piers to parks such as Madison Square and Bryant Park for one month.

The “breakout” work stations can include wireless connections, furniture (e.g. chairs and tables), collaboration software, printers, electrical power and other workplace necessities.

Megan Canning of the Design Trust for Public Space sat down with Antonina Simeti, one of the project’s organizers and asked how the whole idea came from.

Breakout! came from the desire for mobile workers to be better supported in the city. Our project leader – a mobile worker himself – was interested in bringing attention to the community of mobile workers in New York City, and exploring ways to enable their work. We have come together as a team of people studying, supporting and doing mobile work, and we each bring our own interests and expertise to the project – social science research, architectural and urban design, technology and software design. As a result, Breakout! is not only a way to explore how cities can support mobile work, but is a test of collaboration methods, an ethnographic research project, a challenge to traditional office architecture and exploration of mobile infrastructure, and a new way to invigorate underutilized public spaces.

The increase in access to the internet from anywhere is making this even easier. Some cities, such as Minneapolis have basically wired the entire city, making it possible for residents to use wireless in many parks and public spaces without any more hassle than signing up for the service. Some parks, such as New York’s Madison Square, have provided wi-fi connections on their own. Although in other places there are more barriers, the direction is towards more people having access to the internet from anywhere, whether it be through a wi-fi connection or cell phone network.

For years many have thought that the increasing mobility of work would disperse workers out even more — remotely getting things done in far off places or enabling them to avoid the commute from the suburbs. While that may be occurring on some level, there seems to be an emerging theme that mobile workers want human contact. In cities, the “third places” of coffee shops have become common spots for this to occur. And the Breakout! Festival seems to be actually breaking this concept out even more, into the many parks and public spaces within our cities.

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