I enjoy reading about the future. Future cities, future cars, future office. Who doesn’t? The implications of technological advances are debated online with readers in awe and fear at what may lie ahead. I published Office 2030 and Smart @rse articles earlier this year on this very subject.
Mark Eltringham wrote a great article last month for Workplace Insight suggesting our limited human grey matter cannot fathom where this is going. He’s right (well my limited bonce can’t). IT, AI and VR amongst other technological advances are accelerating at such pace we’re lagging farther and farther behind, our puny imagination unable to digest the far reaching consequences as speed of progress is infinitely redoubled. And redoubled.
Computer says yes. Brain says ‘erm wait… gimme a second…”
Eltringham quotes Stewart Brand’s ‘How Buildings Learn’, “describing each building as consisting of six layers, each of which functions on a different timescale. These range from the site itself which has a life cycle measured in centuries, through to the building (decades), interior fit out (years), technology (months), to stuff (days). The effectiveness of a workplace design will depend on how well it resolves the tensions that exist between these layers of the building.” Very well put. And with our future workplace needs so uncertain it is clear that flexibility is vital.
Yet as advances continue apace, the very style of our commercial interiors is stripped back to basics. Check out my last post on Factory Office to see what I mean. Swathes of furniture and interior design has become utilitarian in appearance. Exposed beams, ceilings and plywood are rife. Coincidence? Perhaps not.
AHMM Architects recently unveiled Google’s King’s Cross Office, complete with ‘Jack’; a meeting room which is reconfigurable and portable within the building. Plug and play. Effectively the rooms which come with built in video conference equipment can be hacked to suit requirements – something that no doubt appeals to the IT crowd.
Dr Kerstin Sailer, a lecturer at University College London commented “The inflexibility of space has become particularly problematic in the 21st century business environment. It could be argued that Google is now making a move towards a more profound workplace innovation.”
Again the scheme’s overall interior style is very ‘coworking’ flavour, stripped back, typically tech. The IT industry that has led the coworking interiors style revolution are perhaps more aware than most of why commercial interiors should be simple, flexible and updatable. Perhaps these IT folk that live in dark cupboards snacking on pot noodles and energy drinks think of the building floorplate as a mother board onto which updates should be regularly downloaded in order to maintain its effectiveness.
Away from tech-focused desks and meeting furniture, we’ve seen the rise of young edgy breakout furniture firms with playful, retro and ironic styles ripe for Palo Alto. The likes of Facebook and Twitter have had cuddly soft breakout spaces with rocking chairs and old school sofas for years. The antisocial nature of technology itself perhaps promotes the need for good old fashioned chat in a space that feels safe and warm. But stripped back ceilings and plywood doesn’t necessarily feel warm you say. Ah yes, but it feels basic.
There’s the ‘everyone wants to be a start up’ factor. A leaning towards personal, approachable ‘low tech’ human service. “Hi I’m a friendly human. Let’s sit on a sofa, drink coffee and chat business.” steering clear of the high tech server stack that is beeping, whirring and being cooled by air-con in the back room.
And we’re now seeing not just the return of bent metal utilitarian furniture, but a number of other materials formerly linked with granny’s front room are popping up. We’ve had mid century design and Scandi lounge settings re-appearing. Marbles and velvet too. But who would have thought that handwoven wicker, the antithesis of technology, would be making a comeback anytime soon? But here we are. And here it is.
Perhaps it’s part of human nature to dig our heels in. As IT races on at light speed, keeping our interiors ‘real’ gives us echoes of days gone by. A visit to old Aunty Beth’s for a cuppa and some custard creams. If people feel good, they are happy and productive, remember? Whatever the key driver to this trend is, it’s ironic that as IT progresses to new found heights, our interior style is going backwards. And nowhere more so than in the tech industry hubs themselves.