Exploring the Future with Ping-Pong and Creativity


A large crowd and surprising answers to complex questions. The opening weekend of the USM WorkHouse in Biesenthal was an overwhelming success.

A former mill near Berlin on a sunny weekend in June. While young architects and designers play ping-pong outside, heads are spinning inside the old barn. In front of an audience of around 200 invited guests, Rohit Talwar, a British futurologist, entrepreneur and founder of the think tank Fast Future Research talks about the future of work. What kind of new jobs will be created through the increasing use of artificial intelligence? How can we fashion organisations and our environment in such a way that the future will be a paradise instead of a hell? What encourages women to make the move into self-employment? Anthropologists, start-up founders, philosophers, designers, architects and photographers – everybody’s invited to join the discussion during this opening weekend.

This was our ideal image: the fortified mill in Biesenthal near Berlin – in an idyllic location and with a historical facade and casual modern concrete annex – was supposed to provide the venue for a buoyant exchange of ideas. From 1 June to 15 July 2018, we brought our WorkHouse to life. Together with UN Studio, we used the familiar modules of the USM furniture system to create a walk-in installation. An exceptional space for thinking, playing, experimenting, climbing – and, of course, for working.

On the opening weekend, we saw the launch of three so-called PlayLabs – hybrids between playful workshop spaces and laboratories – where, in the weeks that followed, experts from various disciplines could explore what the future of work might hold for us.

What if machines take over creative work in the future as well? On the upper floor of the USM WorkHouse, the installation Human Traits by the artist Patrick Tresset shows what this might look like. Those who take a seat on the wooden chair next to the window are surrounded by three robots at old drawing tables. Three cameras zero in on the model, and three robotic arms equipped with ball pens await their turn. When the assistant gives the go-ahead, the robots start drawing frantically. The portrait of a human being emerges – drawn from three perspectives, controlled by three robots. The human being turns into an extra, from subject into object, while the robots showcase their creative powers.

In the living room next door, the change manager Lydia Schültken lets visitors test her so-called #workhacks – minimally invasive techniques derived from Design Thinking and intended to make teamwork easier. The “complaint-free Monday” is particularly well-received. It requires destructive, nagging co-workers to spend at least one day a week engaging in constructive cooperation, and to adopt a can-do mentality.

Meanwhile, in the barn, Robert Rowland Smith has the floor. The British philosopher asks what might fill the gap if work no longer defines our lives. An answer to this question can already be glimpsed outside on the meadow behind the USM WorkHouse: eight young people are running around a table playing ping-pong as the sun sets. It looks like they’re having fun.