THE OFFICE WORKS
The title of this text, The Office Works, is proposed as a motto here. Yes, the office works and it makes sense today mainly as the meeting place for the members of a company.
In order for the office to work, designers must equip the space for a use at the worker’s discretion, paying attention to mobility and the continuous exchanges which characterise today’s working day. Mobility implies the continuous interchanging of positions in space and, in this sense, the designer’s task with regards to the office must consist of granting a high level of adaptability to the interior, through decisions taken prior to the project which supply a notable level of indeterminacy, while providing complementary devices which incentivise its use.
We have addressed these topics in another text which we refer to here, taking the Sevil Peach project for Citizen Office by Vitra in Wheil am Rehin as the model. This is about giving the workspace an active role, the same as for the employee working there, in a way that, taking this as a basis, we can consider the workspace as a subject.
Michele de Lucchi, the original thinker of the Citizen Office together with Ettore Sottsass and Andrea Branzi, and the author of La Passeggiata (The Walk) in the Milan Mobile Expo 2015, says: “we must think about the workspace as a gymnast equipped to train the spirit, a space where relationships can generate new ideas and possibilities. The office of the future is a changing space, free from conventions, always different and always creating novelties”. And this brings with it the idea of office design understood as “a way of creating a culture, not necessarily a way of creating a brand or an aesthetic atmosphere”.
Because in today’s workspace, the debate and the designer’s essential task must be focused initially on behaviours (in order to later focus on the features of the space). In case this is still not sufficiently clear, two board games show the enormous change of mentality which have occurred within one century, which coincides with the history of office. At the end of the 19th century, the game of choice was The Office Boy by Parker Brothers (1889), which praised hard work and determination – where players advanced from the lowest condition on the company ladder, trying to avoid risks and dangers which would force them to go back to the beginning, until they managed to reach the position of company director and win the game.
The typical game of the early 21st century was The WorkPlace Game, designed by CfPB (Center for People and Buildings), in 2007. It is a communication tool apt to explain life’s rules and customs that are generally implicit, according to statements by its creators. Evi de Bruyne and Fien Thoolen, researchers of CfPB, explain that the “WorkPlace Game was created to facilitate the exchange about the behaviours of different people in new spaces; being aware and comparing experiences and points of view; the acceptance of a need for behaviours to evolve; sharing the same values and jointly developing life for the new workspaces” .
The workers’ habits are now undoubtedly the centre of interest. And the office’s interior design must take into account the circumstances which affect the broad social spectrum populating the new work environments -specifically the mixture of generations; collaborative work; dispersion of working hours; proliferation of data; the need to disconnect and others.
A recent study about the topic, entitled The Future workplace, carried out with a view to exploring and discovering the future of workspaces in Great Britain during next decade and until 2030, shows that “employees want to see their employers transform the workplace into one where age is irrelevant, energy levels are maximised, the mind is cultivated and people can ‘switch off’ every now and then in order to refresh themselves mentally and be more productive in the long term”. The study highlights four trends: ‘the ageless workforce’ (energetically prepared to work forever); ‘the mindful workforce’; ‘the intuitive workforce’, and ‘the collaborative workforce’.
The tension generated between the ‘mindful workforce’ and the ‘intuitive workforce’
is particularly interesting, especially as it relates to new technologies. At one extreme, this is about taking advantage of the ‘internet of things’ in order to establish a correlation of data which exhaustively allow to understand behaviours within the office, and at the other extreme, this is about having the ability to disconnect.
This is not about taking the negative opinion to the evidence regarding our link to the digital environment, along the lines of Evgeny Morozov, Jonathan Franzen, Byung-Chul Han, Nicholas Carr and others, but rather about finding the balance between this reality and the personal projection of each individual. And in the middle is interior architecture, which must assume its own role in order to open up the field of action on this point.
As such, our title as a motto ‘the office works’ could also be interpreted, in a second meaning, as ‘let the office be calm’, or even ‘let the worker be calm, let the office work by itself, just like the worker’. As a corollary, this involves a critique of the ever more common expressive excesses, of the rhetoric of hyperactivity, of funny and playful features, which hide real behaviours and seems to reduce workers to adolescents in a somewhat submissive condition (Google offices and other similar examples). On the contrary, today we find ourselves among creative workers, having their own initiatives, eager to find spaces which are fascinating and suitable for exchanges but also peaceful, appropriate for concentration and decision-making.
There is a hint of this concern when one begins to speak so much about how to accelerate ‘serendipity’ or “how to discover by chance that which has not been sought” in working environments, that is to say “how to establish the conditions so that unexpected findings occur, or to foster the greater likelihood of positive unexpected discoveries which result from the collaboration between people with different interests, but with the same proactive stance towards life”.
An interesting text by Françoise Bronner observes some spatial concepts emerging as a consequence of the dimensions of ‘serendipity’: Encouraging workers’ movement by skilfully locating certain original functional areas; creating interstitial spaces for interaction and collaboration in order to increase collective participation in knowledge and experience as well as the likelihood of new ideas emerging, and, lastly, equipping the space with multiple sources of inspiration, information and experience (objects, books, unusual artefacts…), in order to promote wisdom and wonderment.
In addition to that, if the entirety of technological advancements, that is to say, the digital architecture, guarantees a company-based control over information and planning, as well as enabling its market strategy, its physical equivalent, the architectural form, can relax and counterbalance this order, offering a suggestive reality and using its tactile nature to activate the user’s awareness of the physical environment. As Florian Idenburg, architect, Harvard professor and director of So-Il studio, says: “The office space can become a sensorial oasis in a saturated, digitized environment”.
In opposition to ‘technological solutionism’ (Evgeny Mozorov, 2013) and the ‘dominion of machines over own minds’ (Nicholas Carr, 2011) which implies our dissolution within the network in an act of automated permanent complacency, this tactile space can welcome individuals, improving their performance through configurations which facilitate concentration, and even solitude with the option of isolation.
To conclude, in the light of the above, we shall have a careful reading of these words by Peter Handke: “Why is isolation so necessary? I find that in some company the inner “me” goes mute, I am left without words. This is the moment for me to disappear and seek a silent place, on some pretext, it doesn’t have to be the bathroom, as that is where my speech flows. (…) you have to remove yourself from society to become sociable again, in order for your language to return. So that you can speak with yourself. It is important for humans to be able to talk with themselves. It’s happened to me many times that just by closing the door behind me my inner “me” began to speak again. When before, in the middle of all the people, it was submerged in complete muteness. There is a very big difference between being silent and being muted. In today’s society, now more than ever, individuals are threatened of being muted”.
What Peter Handke longs for could be a ‘flow’ or the state of pure calm. “A state of motivation and concentration which happens suddenly when the individual is completely immersed in an activity”.
Barcelona, 30 October 2015
 Published in 2014 by ELISAVA. See also on http://tdd.elisava.net/coleccion/30/guasch_sabater-es
 Cited in Laëtitia Fritsch. “Office 2015. Between High-Tech and craft work”. Office et Culture 36, p.122. June 2015.
 Michele de Lucchi. “Talking the Walk”, interview by Spencer Bailey. Surface117, pp. 125-132. April 2015.
 Extracts from Office et Culture 34, pp.99, December 2014.
 See the article “Heretics in the valley of wonders” by José Elola, published in El País, on 25 October 2015, Ideas supplement pp. 4-5.
 Extracted from the glossary included in “Workforce. A better place to work”, a+t 43, 2014, p. 152.
 Françoise Bronner: “Chance, flow, and breakthrough innovation. Serendipity and space. “Included in Office et Culture 33, pp 34-38, September 2014.
 Florian Idenburg: “Workspheres. Anticipatory environments that foster interaction”, in A-Typical plan. Projects and essays on identity, flexibility and atmosphere in the office building. pp. 116-123. Edited by Jeanette Kuo, Park Books, Zurich, 2013,
 Peter Handke. Interview by Cecilia Dreymüller, published in El País, on 25 October 2015, p. 29.
 Françoise Bronner, op.cit. Commentary on the research by the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihàly about creativity and psychology of happiness.