The King and Yu

Jason King’s multidisciplinary design firm in New York encompasses architecture, landscape architecture, urban design, exhibition design, interior and industrial design. Along with fellow expat Canadian George Yu, King won the Canada Council’s prestigious Prix de Rome in Architecture in 2000. His experience as a practitioner and an educator has enriched his work with a multiplicity of perspectives, and his practice is firmly entrenched in contemporary culture, one defined by digital technology and new forms of media.

King feels that collaboration with other disciplines and widespread research is critical to his practice in that it results in truly innovative solutions and rich architectural experiences. Consequently, a narrative quality is evident in King’s design process. In researching the problem, King arrives at a solution through the exercise of storyboarding potential scenarios, attempting to convey the experiential qualities of the design project over a period of time. Heavily graphic representations of various studies undertaken represent the means used to achieve a thoroughly considered design solution.

IBM Centers for e-Business Innovation

In a collaborative partnership with George Yu called designOFFICE (DO), King completed this Chicago project in 2000 during the dot-com and e-business frenzy characterizing the dawn of the new millennium. These facilities were designed to convey and reinforce the essence of the IBM e-Business brand through the creation of a day-long, technologically immersive, educational and interactive experience in which clients could access expert development, implementation and management strategies for web-based business. Essentially a management consulting workshop venue for bricks-and-mortar Fortune 500 companies to facilitate their leap into the e-business pond, IBM initially commissioned King and Yu to design several of these centers for Chicago, New York and Atlanta. Again, the importance of collaboration became apparent with monolithic Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum (HOK) as architectural collaborator, and Hollywood media graphics company Imaginary Forces as creative collaborator.

The e-Business Center is spread out over a floor and a half of Mies van der Rohe’s IBM Plaza Building in Chicago. As one might expect, technology plays a critical role in this project. Audio sensors, voice recognition, interactive touch screens and new media technologies are integrated into the working environment enabling guests to access various sources of information and also to fully experience the possibilities that new technologies may offer to their businesses. One of the key elements of the design is the personal interactive tabletop capable of receiving projections from above, creating an individual yet interconnected interface. King and Yu successfully collaborated with Imaginary Forces and with aerospace parts company K.B. Manufacturing to create the tables and interface in-house. This table acts as the primary collaborative tool; a new prototype for the traditional conference table where guests interact and manipulate ephemeral digital projections that appear on its surface while seated in a configuration that encourages non-hierarchical and collaborative dialogue. Detailed drawings indicate how the components of the “invisible” technology animate the project: line elements indicate the directionality of the ceiling-concealed video projectors casting images on the interactive conference table, while hardware is stashed below. A testament to the team’s success, IBM ultimately bought several of the tables for their e-Business offices throughout the US. The prototype element of the personalized “smart object” also emerged in this project, a small handheld device capable of triggering customized individual media messages on the interactive plasma screens.

Spatial flexibility is critical to the center; the interactive kiosk panels embedded with liquid plasma touch-screens function as configurable wall partitions. In their closed position of alignment, they are capable of separating zones into private areas for different uses. Alternatively, the kiosk panels pivot open to enable fluidity of movement between zones, facilitating informal networking or accommodating receptions and parties. The richness of the experience is enhanced by the addition of sound to the dynamic images flickering on the kiosk screens. Different musical tones accompany each glass panel as one progresses down the corridor. The plasma screens function as interactive windows that provide access to the vast digital world of the Internet, much as conventional windows offer us visual access to the outside world. A conflation of Web space and real space is achieved.

Not only does the storyboarding process enable King to conceive and develop the project in a more methodical and enriched manner, it also conveys a more convincing and detailed representation of the project to clients, an invaluable selling tool. For instance, the storyboard images incorporate a timeline of potential day-long scenarios to illustrate how the space might be used over a course of 11 hours, offering a realistic narrative of a day in the life of the project.


As an example of King’s increasingly international portfolio of work, the S-Office is a prototype environment that won first place in a 2003 competition held by the Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri of the Government of Italy and the Rome Order of Architects. The project strives to change the perception of governments as impenetrable forces over which individuals have no control (particularly timely given the nature of the current Berlusconi rgime in Italy), and proposes a radical architectural solution to the mind-numbing and bureaucratic experience of visiting any government office. A completely new interface between the public and the “front office” eradicates the anxiety of long lineups, time wastage, poor service and the implied hierarchy of power built into a typical government office design. Traditional spatial arrangements and ways of doing things are wholly reconfigured via a synthesis of mutable architectural systems, new technologies and human factors research. What is remarkable about this project is its potential application to a wide range of government and corporate office environments. The driving concerns were to create a customer experience of accessibility and openness.

This is not simply architecture, but a wholly designed environment reliant on new technologies. The personalized hand-held smart object enables this entire concept to work. As the storyboard scenarios indicate below, this small handheld device is issued to a client upon arrival, and is capable of storing information that he or she can input at an interactive kiosk. The client is then free to relax in a comfortable waiting lounge or tend to tasks on the Internet. The painful experience of the interminable lineup is eradicated as the smart object alerts the client of her turn, enabling her to complete the transaction with office staff at any one of a number of collaboration tables scattered throughout the office.

The prototype interface system diagrams on the opposite page illustrate the concepts that King has isolated in researching the project. These include Extra, Relationship, Line, Spatial Organization, Program Sequence, Tectonic, Perception, and Technology. Within these categories, King addresses fundamental issues of transparency, openness, understanding, participation, collaboration and mutability through deliberate design strategies. This methodology results in a great deal of conceptual clarity and thorough systematization where the principles are realized in every aspect of the project.

Ultimately, King’s projects are about crafting an experience and the powerful orchestration of an event. A relentless focus on research, technology and collaboration imbues his work with a multi-dimensional character that is evident in his narrative representational techniques. Clearly, King’s detailed and l
aborious process is proving to be a compelling force for a variety of clients around the globe.

Project: IBM Centers for e-Business Innovation

Client: IBM

Architect Team: Jason King, George Yu (former principal), Sandra Levesque, Davis Marques, Kai Riedesser

Mechanical: McGuire Engineers

Electrical: BLM Engineers

Contractor: Pepper Construction

Motion Graphics: Imaginary Forces

Sound Design: Musikvergnuegen

Audio/Visual: AMD

Area: 10,000 ft2

Budget: $3.0 million USD (not including media equipment)

Completion: December 2000

Photography: Benny Chan

Project: S-Office

Client: Presidenza del Consiglio dei Ministri, Government of Italy

Architect Team: Jason King, Alessandro Mascia, Mark Pollock, Brian Sweeney

Area: 1,000 m2

Budget: R2.5 million

Completion: Competition phase completed 2003


Site A: EUR

Giacomo is a busy young man working in IT. Approaching the building, the signage system greets him outside. He selects a specific path into the building from the loggia. He is issued a smart object upon entry and is directed to an interactive kiosk. While waiting, he inputs his required information which is stored on his smart object. He also checks e-mail and manages appointments via the Internet. His smart object alerts him that it is his turn and he follows the signage system to his associate. The smart object inputs his information and his associate swivels the table so that he can verify the transaction. The transaction is beamed to Giacomo’s wireless PDA. Giacomo is off to his next appointment. His interaction with the bureaucratic office has been efficient and transparent.

Site B: Piazza Augusto Imperatore

Maria is a retired grandmother who takes the bus to the public office. Her eyesight isn’t too good anymore, but the signage is visible from the street. She follows the signs inside to the information resource person, and is issued a smart object along with a simple explanation. She is directed to a waiting area where she finds a comfortable place to sit. She meets some old friends from the neighbourhood, and they have a pleasant chat. Her smart object alerts her of her turn. An associate is guided to Maria to greet her, and leads her to a collaboration. The associate inputs her information and completes the forms. A paper receipt is issued and Maria’s transaction is complete. Her experience was easier than any other that she has had with a bureaucratic office.