Workplace Design Revolution: The Inside-Out Urbanism

Workplace Design Revolution: The Inside-Out Urbanism

Zhonghua Gou (Griffith University, Australia)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0666-9.ch012


This chapter articulates how the way of working changed the interiority of office buildings and how it is shaping the space between office buildings. The modern office building was originated from bringing workers together in one location, which resulted in gigantic corporate architecture. However, the gigantism did not produce urban rhythm or urbanism due to the Taylorist management. With the human relation movement that emphasised natural groups and social relations to ameliorate hierarchical tensions and to sustain high productivity, workplace was designed to encourage spontaneous, serendipitous social encounter via blurring boundaries of circulation, working and services. The intensive social activities within an office building, representing urban rhythm, significantly changed the building's interiority. The advancement of communication technologies brought forth portable worksphere and nomadic working-style, which engendered a new relationship between office workers and public realm in cities.
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Office buildings are an important part of urban landscape. Their typologies significantly shape the cities’ morphologies. The 20th century witnessed office buildings transiting from fixed capital where buildings are used to facilitate the process of production to investments where buildings are used as rental properties to appreciate with their site values. When the circulation of rentals is faster than that of surplus value generated from in-house production, it is more worth for the building owners to leave the building empty and to look for speculative tenants (Bain & Baldry, 1992). “A machine that makes the land pay” was the definition of an office building proposed by Cass Gilbert, the Architect of Woolworth Building and quoted by many others. This means that the primary object for an office building is to earn the greatest possible return for its owners. In the book “Form Follows Finance”, Willis (1995) formulated how an office tower was designed from inside out, from the smallest cell, to the full-floor plan, to the three dimensional form: “The first step was to determine the dimensions of the smallest unit – the single office – which was a room with one or two windows. This module was then reproduced as many times as possible within an efficient floor plan and then multiplied by the desired number of stories.” Natural light was the most important factor in setting the dimensions of the office. But soon, the lighting was a not primary concern when fluorescent lamps came into use. The programmatic formula for office space standardized high-rise office towers design everywhere and consequently shaped the urban skyline via modifying the formula with local conditions (city’s historic grid, municipal regulations, and zoning).

Actually, there is another inside-out workplace design trend which is less articulated but is significantly changing interiority of an office building as well as its local cityscape. Reflecting the wider macro-economic transition from labour intensive work to knowledge-based work, the role of physical office was increasingly acknowledged as a place to enable people to interact and collaborate. In other words, the office was becoming less a place to work on a set of prescribed tasks, and more somewhere to interact with colleagues. The worksphere consisted of laptops, mobile phones, internet access and so on becomes easily, conveniently portable, which emancipates office workers from fixed workstations. They are free to move outside of office buildings and to work in every corner of the city. The space produced in last century office booming by maximization and standardization could not anymore meet the emerging nomadic working style. The programmed, formulated office towers are becoming obsolescent. Designing or retrofitting these office buildings has impacts not only on interiors but also on cities. Recently, Gensler proposed an idea of “Hacking” to deal with the obsolescent office buildings and experiment it in its Los Angeles Office (Figure 1) (Jernigan, 2014). Stripped of horizontal and vertical partitions, the “hacked” building completely changed the interior space to cater for the new knowledge-based working style. A new transparent, fluid, permeable circulation system consisted of courtyards, lobbies, streets, stairs, etc. was devised to orchestrate social encounter and collaboration. The hacked space that looks so brand new also brought a new identity for the local urbanscape considering its large scale and central location. The Gensler’s design is just one example of numerous ongoing or upcoming retrofitting projects dealing with the obsolescent office buildings in urban downtown areas. This chapter is intrigued to look at what’s behind the new design trend: Why the interior bears a striking resemblance to exterior in response to the new working style? How it changes an office building’s interiority? How it also influences the space outside buildings?

Figure 1.

Gensler Los Angeles Office (© 2015 Gensler. Used with permission.)

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