Not that I expect any of you to read it, but this is how I see the project ultimately coming together.
Quite a few things have changed. I’m working on a big drawing which is of the table where the architect works, and the stuff on the table will describe my conclusion of “spatial rewards” and the combination of the idealist self-image of the architect, with the demands for proper compensation and appreciation of his work.
In short: if the problems of the architectural office are immaterial (social) rather than material (spatial), then it makes little sense to respond to these problems by way of the material. Therefore, I am designing a system of compensation, rather than a literal office space.
The pods will still come in as the vehicles with which we travel between our desires, but ultimately, they’ve been pushed to the side, as have other discussions, such as the one in gender, in order to focus my resources.
Chipperfield: Pay is rubbish and if you have friends or a partner you will never see them until you quit, usually after a year, like everyone else does. Massive staff turnover. No fun in there.
Fosters: It’s a corporation, a sweat shop. Doesn’t matter whether they make flip flops in China, stamped t-shirts in Vietnam or buildings everywhere. It’s a business! Nevertheless, no one mentions what happens to those that left and got something out of it just because they have the Foster logo printed on the CV.
Zaha: Loves communication via Tannoy at the office. Just so everyone knows what mistake you’ve made in that drawing and when you were five minutes late.
Ole Scheeren: There is a complete lack of architectural interest and the projects are “designed” through an army of zombied out interns mindlessly google-ing images and stacking foam boxes.
OMA: When they offered the annual salary I seriously asked if this was meant to be for 1 month and got the hell out of there…
Nouvel: I haven’t been in the office for the last 3-4 years but I recall of the “dungeons”. At least 2 basements filled up with Chinese interns.
Now, the question I want to ask here is: if, already a hundred years ago, the Bata shoe factory in Zlín could offer a better working environment for its employees and organise them collectively, what is stopping us from using the same strategy in the office? In other words, could the training of an architect, a process that never ends, ultimately also become a reward of knowledge and experience, rather than a salary? Instead of building a bank account, the architect ought to build an identity.
The Greek poet Archilochus, older than Socrates, defined identity as a matter of hedgehogs and foxes: “The hedgehog knows one big thing; the fox knows many.”
In the large, hierarchical office, we are hedgehogs. We experience work as a one-point perspective, where we draw and model our way towards one goal, the vision of the master architect. To some this vision brings comfort, in always knowing what to do when you arrive on Monday morning, to always have your spot, your place in the chain.
In the small, flat office, we are foxes. Here we can no longer speak of any points in perspective, in fact, everyone has their own point. This vision of the architect’s occupation reflects our society as an agglomeration of individuals. We might find our freedom here, but we lose our collective potential.
Bringing all the spaces together, we see, that as a collective, we operate on the verge of collapse. The office is now a chamber outgrown by an Alice on digital, immaterial drugs, despite its many formal variations. The office is rapidly becoming a non-site, a non-location, as architecture itself is driven to the great grey mass of transitional space. This I define as “the road.”
If we take this last statement, the road is the journey, and apply it to architecture, we have the choice of viewing it as a development of character, like the Chinese martial arts master directing us towards the true road to success.
And if the problems of labour in the office are essentially non-spatial, then the solution cannot be simply a new type of wall or chair. The manifestation of fair treatment of labour does not lie in the space of production itself, but in the abstract nature of work, *which is then* rewarded or punished by architecture.
My two points of interest in the office are the insubstantial reward of our work, and the tendency to define our identity as architects as one of knowledge and dedication. In the new office, the two can mutually include each other, in fact, they must do so. Architects need to work, but they also want to work.
Time, learning, mindset, responsibilities. These are immaterial characters and cannot be addressed solely by material proposals. With a new space, there must be a new purpose.
My question is: if compensation is an issue, then can the solution be architecture? Can the office, instead of being a space of production, be a spatial reward?
Therefore, I give you the table. It is anyone’s table, Everyman’s table, but on this table lies the possibilities of new experiences, and the remnants of those already taken. To me, it is now clear that work is a choice of life, not life a choice of work. The organisation of the office thus reconciles the specialisation and marginalisation of “architecture” as profession with the role of “architect” as a passionate identity. Essentially, life becomes capital.
(WIP) Another day at the table of the omni-architect …
The architect who wants to build leaves the office in the middle of the week, takes the company lorry to an old fisherman’s hut by the sea. He builds because he wants to see someone, a child, maybe, grow up and marvel at his quirky chimney details. He will continue to build here until the building is completely over-saturated with spatial contraptions.
The architect who wants to study is given access to the RIBA basement library on Great Portland Street, whose purpose of research lies in his fascination with all things original. He wants to touch the manuscripts of Christopher Wren. In what way does it matter that it is not related to a project, if it is related to the project of building expertise?
The architect who wants to test his ideas goes to whatever wind tunnel, robot assembly line, disgusting urban squalor or nameless suburbia in order to erect a project that was not asked for by anyone but the architect himself. He builds not because he was asked to, but because he wanted to, and that is what we assist him in. He goes from “friends” with a project to “in relationship.”
Ultimately the new office responds to how the labour of architecture can be kept a lifestyle, a dedication, and not just an occupation. It is *still* a work, but it is also a calling, as we all know, since we love architecture. What would you want to do as a project, if you were to choose it only as a personal conviction, rather than as a crude reality? If your desires are the reward, if money shrinks to near-disappearance, and architecture remains, what would you do?