The New New Office
Mayer Rus -- Interior Design, 3/1/2001 12:00:00 AM
Much has been made of late about the shake-out of the once feverishly proliferating dot.com industry. Given the recent fluctuations in the stock market-and perhaps even more market corrections in the offing-Internet companies have been forced to confront material limitations to their visions of a brave new wired world. I can only hope that a similar correction will occur with respect to the designs typically associated with dot.com enterprises-designs that seem ever more theatrical, impractical, and ludicrous. Clearly, the delirious office is not the right answer to the various architectural and design problems presented by advances in technology.
Let's be clear: calling for a chastened work environment doesn't necessarily mean a return to the dour legal/financial/reform-school offices of yore. Artistry, imagination, and invention remain paramount virtues-virtues serving both aesthetic and practical concerns. New technologies certainly have been a boon to creativity within the design industry. But once again I have to make a plea for restraint and sanity. Too often flights of fancy utterly untethered from the real needs of the client have taken over in the realization of the office of the future.
Two recent articles in the New York Times only serve to bolster arguments made previously in these very pages. One article described the difficulties presented by the maintenance of those elaborate salt-water aquaria that have been all the rage as splashy décor in dot.com offices. Not only are they enormously expensive to maintain, but they are even more costly to remove when the company, feeling the painful crunch of economic downsizing, goes the way of all flesh. What happens to the pretty angelfish when the curtain comes down on the gee-whiz-cool environment in which they once flourished? I shudder to imagine their fate. In another article, the paper of record reports on the deficiencies of that dot.com nirvana, the dilapidated Starrett-Lehigh Building in New York. Apparently, the building is infested with roaches; the elevators are more 19th-century than 2001; and this promised land of dot.com fertility remains sequestered in a terrain vague beyond all amenities (i.e., restaurants and shops-but there may be a nearby gas station!).
In this issue, Interior Design presents its own vision of what the new office can and should be-a place where creativity and novelty work in concert with the needs of business. The projects singled out are smart enough to have the built-in flexibility to adapt to the changing requirements of the businesses they serve. These offices are conceived primarily as work spaces, rather than as wacky playgrounds or ostentatious billboards advertising the presumed hipness of the company. The reality principle need not be allied with drab interiors, as these sharp and stylish offices plainly demonstrate.
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