European fruit-and-vegetable marketplaces are vital public spaces where not just coins and apples are exchanged but also politics, gossip, and community news. These markets, with their sheltering open-sided canopies, inspired Carl Gustav Magnusson in his design of a radically new type of office furniture.

His Marketplace table, created for Teknion, the Toronto-based office-furniture company, is aimed at collaborative work groups and for a new generation of office workers who were raised on mobile phones, laptops, and iPods and are eager to abandon their cubicles.

The huge Marketplace table was introduced in June at NeoCon, the annual office-furniture-industry show in Chicago, where it won a gold medal for best of show. Its rooflike canopy, a distinct echo of the traditional market, emotionally and symbolically defines its space and contains warm, soft lighting. In the common space, the lighting provides a sense of personal territory. "Space and place," Magnusson calls it.

"The common table goes back to medieval times," Magnusson says as he surveys his creation. "We are reinventing it for the 21st century."

The shared table works as both metaphor and means for the new way of working. "Work is much more collaborative today. People are multitasking. Marketplace helps bring people together to exchange ideas."

Structurally, the Marketplace table is built around a triangular aluminum truss that allows for its span of 20 feet, which Magnusson believes is the longest of any table on the market. It accommodates as many as 10 people; multiple tables can be linked.

The truss is like a bridge or sign support above the freeway.

"I was sitting in traffic in Sweden and noticed the bridge in front of me, with its truss girders," he recalls. "I wondered if that idea could be applied to office furniture."

The truss-a lightweight assemblage of small pieces that together have the strength of a solid beam-reminded Magnusson of aircraft and sports cars-two of his fascinations. "I thought of the tail of the Bell helicopter that hangs in the Museum of Modern Art," he says. It is an icon of modern design.

"This kind of construction was also used in great Italian sports cars of the 1950s," he says. "They called it in Italian superleggera-super light."

He should know. Magnusson has twice driven the Mille Miglia, the thousand-mile road rally in Italy for vintage sports cars-once with his wife, the architect Emanuela Frattini Magnusson.

As director of design at Knoll furniture, Magnusson learned the design process by working with such luminaries as Frank Gehry and Maya Lin. He is now an independent designer.

Teknion's director of marketing, Steve Delfino, saw the appeal of Marketplace for the new generation of businesses that focus on teamwork and collaboration and younger employees who demand an environment that thrives on buzz and camaraderie.

"Marketplace is a visually dramatic response for open collaborative work groups," says Delfino. Another thing he liked: Working with Teknion's in-house designers, Magnusson figured out a way to build Marketplace using many parts from the company's existing catalog of products. And fewer parts means not just lower cost but also shorter assembly time, ideal for those startup companies in a hurry, restructuring offices over a weekend. "Because it has very few parts and assembles quickly, it cuts costs."

 

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