A substantial part of our lives is spent at work spaces, as employees, users/clients, or as passers-by. What is the optimal work space, where does the border cross between the individual and corporate identity? What is the right level of social transparency?
In Diller &Scofidio’s Webcam installation REFRESH, web-cams were places in 12 sites at office buildings in the US, Europe and Australia. Each camera documents a different internal situation within the office space: interaction surrounding the water-cooler, office with an open door facing the passageway, work stations separate by a glass wall. The camera documents using a sequence of images taken at fixed intervals (days, weeks, or hours – all differently timed…). For the viewer, the only material time is the search time, download time and refresh time.
Presenting the images was done by an invented narrative, images and details – part of the images taken in real-time, and some placed in a sequence and “invented” by actors and photo-processing technology. Thus, new meanings were given to the terms Reality TV and Real Time.
REFRESH raises burning questions of design and planning of interior spaces of large companies, and particularly so for high-tech firms. These question deal directly with company structure and ideology, work myth and the program constructed as an ethical narrative in the spatial sequence.
SURVEILLANCE. Surveillance in large firms is an established norm. The employee accepts the contractual obligation under which he is the “employee” and the company’s role is to monitor him and his work: the magnetic card registering entrances and exits, monitoring in the lab and the lunch-hall, internet usage and visited websites, and recorded telephone calls “in the chamber…but better keep mum which chamber. All those chambers, battalions, offices – in short, all authorities and services – none are more irate. Today each person sees his insult as that of all society” (N. Gogol).
Beyond the ethical questions raised by surveillance, technology puts in question the term “social transparency”. Physical transparency, work stations in closed rooms versus open spaces. How open are these stations, how high the walls between them. What interaction is created, does transparency really create openness and the possibility of a multi-sides interaction?
In REFRESH, the daily presence of the webcam caused a change in behavioral patterns – people became performers. Human interactions tightened and became a human drama, “REAL LIFE” – the creation of Hollywood drama: a camera documenting a frame of a transparent glass wall between rooms creates and exposes simultaneously “shop window” situations, and a gallery of directed scenes.
The uncontrollable voyeurism of people is expressed also in work stations in the most closeted rooms, exposure through acoustic vantage points, peeking and opening doors, and looking to people moving through the passageways.
FRAMING. The physical world versus set design – the camera does not differentiate between them. The real, the directed, all seem to us as part of the same narrative.
Office planning considers well-staged frames, such as meeting rooms. Video conference technology has exposed corporate decision-making process world-wide. The company decides upon the image it wishes to present, the designer stages the space according to corporate narrative, and the set sends direct and indirect messages to potential clients, board members, investors and other branches.
WORK STATIONS. Open/closed, modulation, repetition, monotony, openness, closure – all face personal decoration from layers of private interior – photography, plants, achievements, accreditation, a plethora of colours, textures, fonts and colors. The module is imbued with personal décor.
Work stations – informal spaces. Social and corporate interaction by the water-cooler, kitchen, coffee corner, corridors, waiting corners and bathrooms. These spaces feel free of surveillance even though it exists, providing a legitimacy for free and informal interaction leading to brain-storming and high-level creativity.
Hollywood movies and television portray our fantasies of informal work spaces. Between the lift and the lobby, in the storage room, by the boardroom… that’s were inter-office intrigues are created, finalized with torrid sex on a faintly-lighted dramatic surface – the board room table.
Excerpts from “Work Spaces – efficiency, voyeurism” by Jacoby-Arad Architects