Worlds of work in culture shock.
Magazine Contact #29
Monsieur Hulot wanders through the corridors and doesn’t understand the world any more. Just like in a futuristic anthill, the employees goose step hurriedly from A to B, carrying briefcases, tearing notes out of the typewriter, ignoring all their colleagues in the ether of anonymity. In the 22nd minute, the man with the coat, hat and umbrella ends up in a glass gallery and looks down onto the many little cubicles below which have been burned into the collective memory of film history. The cinematic satire “Playtime”, by French film director Jacques Tati, released in 1967, is a critique of the modern world as well as the increasingly characterless design of our living and working spaces.
Today, the grey and beige open space cubicles, as the office scenes in many American feature films seem to prove impressively, again and again, can mainly be found in the economic and financial sector. On one hand, the shoulder-height partition walls ensure concentrated working with a certain level of privacy and acoustic protection and without screen glare, on the other hand, when you stand up, you can gain an informative overview (and supervisory view) of your colleagues.
But even in architecture, you can find a few surprising and sometimes shocking work situations. Japanese shooting star Junya Ishigami sits with his team in a former discotheque in Roppongi, in the middle of the Tokyo city jungle, in a 400 square-metre cellar space without a view. “When I founded by office, I had to decide: small office with a view or a large office without one? But I admit: even if you have a lot of imagination and very good spatial and atmospheric conceptual possibilities as an architect, we all dream of an office with a window. At the end of the day, we want to see the sky.”
The two Pritzker prize-winners, Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, who run the SANAA office, spent years working in a warehouse in the south of Tokyo. Via a steep metal staircase, with a small sign on the door, you reached a bright, yet tightly furnished office where every employee had desk space of about 80 centimetres each, owing to the exorbitant rental costs. Working hours: 2 p.m. until midnight. The unusual time-slot is based on the fact that SANAA doesn’t just build in Japan, but also supports many projects in Europe and the USA.
In Europe and North America on the other hand, the office layout is mainly the expression of their own culture and company philosophy: at Christoph Ingenhoven’s office in Düsseldorf, the employees sit at a desk in the centre of the room which is dozens of metres long. In the Parisian office of Lacaton & Vassal, an old factory warehouse with a concrete floor, the orchids in the greenhouse are given at least as much attention as the people. And at Hermann Czech’s office in downtown Vienna, you literally vanish behind stacks of books and ceiling-high shelves fitted with glass doors which are filled to bursting point.