Nothing is as constant as change…and space.
Magazine Contact #21
What did you learn in the IG Architektur workshop “Work << >> Space”?
Scheich: Our workgroup addressed the topic of “What’s essential for the relationship between work and space?” In the discussion with participants it emerged how quickly developments are taking place in the office working world compared to other architectural branches, brought about by technological advancements. The impression was that the internet and mobile technology have turned the space into a side issue. This development was critically analysed.
In what sense?
Scheich: We are now in a phase following an extreme flexibilisation, in which it was believed that everything disassociated from the room is doable. What is needed, however, is the human, e.g. the social friction, to be one step ahead of the competition. More and more companies are also recognising that. Employees are to an extent being “fetched back into the office again”. It is thereby, however, no longer as much about the workplace itself as it is much more about what revolves around it – about complete working world concepts, in which the individual workplace is no longer a cornerstone.
Where are the changes in these working worlds headed?
Paintner: Formerly employee workplaces were often equipped, corresponding to their status and ranking in the hierarchy. Offices are meanwhile being designed much more strongly related to activities and more open. Hence attempts are being made to offer “the best of both worlds”: Thus on one hand the benefits of an open spatial structure with a great deal of flexibility, while also integrating elements, such as quiet cells for concentration, conference rooms or informal communication zones.
What do you see as your role as an architect in relation to changes in the working world?
Scheich: Firstly, the major challenge is to create a long-term flexibility of the building. When the conversation is about sustainable properties then probably our main task is here. It is a matter of designing the building so that it potentially satisfies all of the criteria with respect to room heights, room technology, acoustics etc., that it remains easy change its structure and/or use. We thereby experience a high level of change dynamics: A company with a thousand employees is always rebuilding somewhere. However, the office may nevertheless not be a “faceless place”. The second major responsibility of the architecture is therefore conferring a sense of identity. The spatial atmosphere is an entirely essential element, which an office has to fulfil in addition to all of the technical requirements.
What office projects are you working on at the moment?
Paintner: We have already been able to realise office projects for the State of Lower Austria and a private facility management company. A particularly exciting project, in which we are working at the moment in a planning partnership with Schenker Salvi Weber architects, is the Post am Rochus, also the new corporate head office of the Austrian Post AG in Vienna. The property, which is listed and to which a new building is being added, will be ready for occupancy in 2017. The company merged during the past few years from several locations into one shared centre. The new building in Rochus continues in the direction of activity-related work with structures that are even more open.
How has the planning and implementation been going up to now? What are the challenges?
Paintner: The project was advertised in a call to tender in an architecture competition, supported by the strategy and design consultant M.O.O.CON, during which all of the requirements were translated into a space allocation programme.
Speaking about new forms of work, how do you manage this at feld72?
Scheich: We are 15 to 20 people, which varies corresponding to the project situation. We have a relatively flat structured organisation – for this reason the room layouts are also quite open. A separate meeting room was set up some time ago for focused discussions. The creative process is always our priority and the open space situation thus corresponds to the way in which we work and live at feld72: One is aware of what else is going on, the information is communicated quickly and informally. What is somewhat lacking, are complementary modules, such as smaller quiet rooms and telephone areas.
Based on what considerations have you chosen your location?
Paintner: (laughs) It just evolved like that. At the end of our studies we went together with colleagues in search of a studio. We found the ideal premises here in this post-industrial building – the office then grew out of this, in which we are still “living” to this day, as it offers us everything we need. In addition to feld72, there are also even more architects, landscape planners, designers, a dance studio and a kindergarten in the building. This building shows that a corresponding room height and an open basic structure permit all types of use and that it is also possible to learn from such buildings.
You define your approach to architecture as “socially responsible and sustainable” – what do you mean by that?
Scheich: We have a fundamental interest beyond the architectural object and are very involved in the public sector. Social aspects – man, society – are thereby particularly important. We ask ourselves what architecture accomplishes for urban development and what can in turn serve as an environment for people. This is like a common thread that runs through our work. Architecture for us is a universal requirement, which includes many discursive elements, such as the development into a socially responsible, sustainable company.
What is the current situation like for those involved in architecture in Vienna?
Paintner: Economically the culture of competition is an extremely difficult topic for the entire branch. For quality control we naturally continue to defend architectural competitions and also stand by this, however for the individual offices it is at times quite economically difficult to bear the acquisition expense. It would be desirable to have many more construction projects tendered for competition, also from the private sector.
Scheich: As regards to public sector construction projects, we consider the increasing PPP procedures (Note: Public Private Partnerships) to be problematic: The public sector is thereby somewhat withdrawing from responsibility as the owner. We find this particularly dramatic in the case of educational buildings, as the quality control suffers from this. And that is always at the expense of the user and at the end of the day also the taxpayer, who has to pay more (for less quality) – as has already been proven in Germany.