The new workplace brings employees closer to the products their companies make.

As the old industrial base rumbles into the twenty-first century, the public pain of massive displacement is an ongoing and familiar story. Executive ethical lapses and worker layoffs reveal again and again the fractious relationship between white- and blue-collar employees. But we have a more positive story to report, and design is at the very center of it. In fact, it is design that is helping to lead the transition from smokestack industrial to digital industrial, and in the process bringing everyone together under one roof.

At first glance the corporate cultures, as well as the products, of Boeing and BMW seem worlds apart both geographically and philosophically. But the airplane colossus of Renton, Washington, and the car giant of Munich, Germany, are defining the new paradigm of work and working together. Their designers have given physical form to the mixed-use workplace where manufacturing types rub shoulders with managers, engineers, and clients.

Connecting the people who engineer planes and those who make them seems like a no-brainer now that Boeing has found a way with the aid of their architects, NBBJ (see page 105). It’s no surprise that talk abounds about how this consolidation has contributed to a leaner, more efficient production process than the old fragmented workforce could achieve. But what’s more significant for those who work in this factory/office is the direct connection that everyone there has to the brand name on their paychecks. Imagine leaving your desk for a cup of coffee, coming up against the nose cone of a hulking 737, and realizing that you too are part of the team that’s responsible for making it fly.

This connectivity is also present on a somewhat smaller scale at BMW’s new plant in Leipzig by superstar architect Zaha Hadid (see page 114). There, as office workers go about their daily routines they can look up and see the automaker’s newest 3 Series cars glide silently by. By creating places that connect white- with blue-collar workers and administration with manufacturing, the designers of the Boeing and BMW spaces have helped usher in the twenty-first century. You can see it taking shape in Renton and Leipzig.

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