Separation and exclusion have regrettably become vogue topics in the political asylum for those who didn’t pay attention in History at high school. If they went to high school. Yet there is an area of our world where frontiers are being slowly, naturally and beautifully eroded: space.
Where once we donned a visor in order to consider space in regard to its category – domestic, retail, leisure, sports, office, industrial – and worked through a set of assumptions based on established (and invariably unchallenged) notions of purpose, function, components, aesthetics, occupants and visitors, we are gradually removing the boundaries. While this is partly driven by the ease with which we now transition between spaces and unconsciously blur the boundaries ourselves – working in cafes and hotel lobbies, popping-up retail in offices, even the [*dreaded] game of table tennis in the office (there is a great cut of this from the Veep series) – we’re also seeing both a growth in mixed-use developments particularly in areas of regeneration favoured by the tech industry where live/work has become an integral feature (JLL called this the “urban tendency” in a 2013 report), and a willingness on the part of the providers of a particular genre of space to cater for other uses.
While it may seem to be the preserve of artists and creatives, this perception is based more on its origins than the reality – notice the suits that adorn the WeWork space in the City of London.
For workspace design this means being open to influences from other sectors, but avoiding the temptation to try and jump ship entirely in the hope of adding credibility. Vitra’s stand at this year’s Orgatec is called “Work” but looks for all the world like the place you go when you’ve finished for the day. The bad name that soulless workplaces of the last few decades gained through their dream-free serried rows of white desks disappearing into oblivion (not too dissimilar from the images of the Larkin building at the turn of the 20th century) has led to something of a desire to distance ourselves from the tag. If it’s intended to be a workspace, it’s not something to shy away from or be embarrassed about, rather, it’s about focusing on work as the primary function it must fulfil – it has to do what it’s supposed to do, simply, effectively, intuitively – and space as the borderless domain in which these influences and perspectives will play out, that its occupants and inhabitants will in turn by their presence and activity transform into place. If it’s an office, it has to satisfy the function of an office, but it can serve fantastic food and coffee, it can have the comforts and informality of home, it can offer the means to escape from the laptop for a while, it can offer the sense of association of a club, it can allow you to buy some food (and/or wine) for when you get home, it can enable you to have a kip when needed. Can, and should: more importantly, can and will.
This trend will continue, quietly, naturally, beneficially. We will nudge it along with our developments, schemes, projects and ideas, because it makes perfect sense. Refreshingly it’s one to which no-one can lay claim, and for which no-one needs to pronounce anything as “over”.
Space may no longer be the final frontier.