“Workspheres”, January 1, 2013
The office is no more. We work anywhere, anytime. We don’t even think we are working, we don’t really have professions any longer—just different things we do, sometimes alone, sometimes with others we are connected to, through a myriad of mutating platforms and dynamic structures. We meet, tweet and charette in, lounges, clubs, incubators, shared work spaces, hotdesks, café cars, coffee shops, dropdown benches, skype booths, concentration rooms and hotel lobbies. The flexibility and freedom that used to be limited to executives, now applies to more responsibilities as accounting, bookkeeping, contract writing: all this work is done wherever one wants to be. Work is everywhere but the traditional office. It is not only where we work that has changed. The fundamental notion of what work is has shifted. New terms as playbour, enterprise gamification and hackathons suggest a general ‘ludification’ of work, the merging of leisure and obligation. The worksphere has become a big social playground, its players a hybrid troop of nomadic urbanites—dressed up with a menagerie of technologies. Like magicians and con-artists we juggle our hybrid devices as they get faster and more ubiquitous, while roaming from hotspot to hotspot. Home has become less home, and the office as type has vanished.
In this fleeting environment, architecture can insert itself at two distinct levels. Advancements in technology triggered the evaporation of the office as a static typology. Software and tools allow for flexible hierarchies and connections, while assuring work gets done on time. If the virtual architecture keeps this fluid world in check—if it has become the space of reason, of planning, of system—its physical counterpart can relax. Liberated from having to follow function, architectural form should counter-balance this new order by offering an adventurous and tactile real—a enticing space that inspires, offers non-linear insights and heightened awareness of or direct surroundings. The office space can become a sensorial oasis in a saturated, digitized environment. Especially work in the creative industry (and wouldn’t Richard Florida claim we are all creatives?), in the absence of traditional workplaces, it is important to have a place that responds to and reflects the nature of the work we do.
The same technologies that are relaxing our physical structures are sharpening our social orders to hyper precision. Hierarchies are getting more complex and dynamic, the relation between us and our coworkers, colleagues, consultants, friends and frenemies, becomes unimaginable intricate—as we friend, like, and retweet. Where in past office planning strategies as the corridor vs. closed office, the open plan and the cubicle were able to structure there more rudimentary hierarchies, the current complexity of our interconnectedness requires a more precise framing. Careful consideration of positions, dimensions and layered material use can translate these unstable relationships and fluid organizations in a lucid environment. Through study of the workings of an organization and an anticipation of how they will work in the future, architecture can offer a multitude of spatial relationships and environments in which the organization can develop, offering flexibility without endlessly moving furniture around; an anticipatory environment that highlight the physical connections between people and between them and their environment.