One of the feistiest debates at this year’s British Council for Offices conference (AJ 10.06.10) was in the closing panel session, ‘How We Work and Why We Work’ - witnessed by Rory Olcayto
Alongside journalist Jonathan Margolis and architect and developer Roger Zogolovitch, self-styled trendspotter Magnus Lindkvist set himself up as the provocateur. ‘You have a problem,’ he told delegates. ‘People are not using your product. Offices are constricted, horrible, drab environments. People are choosing not to be there.’
There are a few problems with these ill-observed comments. First, the office is on the rise globally: the information revolution is turning collars white in China and India and percentage-wise there are few homeworkers in either country. And while many contemporary workplaces may not be ideal, Lindkvist’s dismissal of the office suggests he has been consulting Ricky Gervais, rather than, say, DEGW founder Frank Duffy. Nevertheless, Lindkvist kickstarted an interesting debate. He said that we look for too much meaning in work. Perhaps the workplace should be about work - and nothing else. Why try to make it luxurious and domestic?
In some ways, this dovetailed with Zogolovitch, whose stream-of-consciousness presentation posited a lifestyle where work and life combine as one - an approach shared by many architects, whether intentional or not. Zogolovitch wants corporate environments that allow for creativity, suggesting we strip offices of the notion of prestige and add value in a looser way. He cited the tall ceilings, smart services and ‘low-energy’ concrete frame of Allford Hall Monaghan Morris’ Yellow Building for Monsoon as aspirational. A ‘white collar factory’, he calls it.
But Margolis had real evidence to prove Lindkvist wrong. One of the UK’s first wired homeworkers (he was lucky enough to have internet access in the 1980s), he now craves the ‘viscerality’ of face-to-face business after years of working alone. And what does the client want? I tend to agree with Margolis. ‘The soul of the company resides in the office.’ Regardless of what shape it takes.