Where I work the office space is a bland space. There are nice elements – the large windows, ample daylight, play of light on the western envelope column casings in the late afternoon when the western, sun streaking through the endless bays with their venetian blinds, creates striping on the column casings. But overall the office is plain. Muted tones, cool colors on the walls and ceilings, moderately warmer colors for the carpet and the cubicle partitions. There is nothing distinct or exciting about the environment. Yet it is interesting in this regard – as representative of a quality common to many contemporary commercial interiors – it is literally – conceptual – it is provisional space – just enough to afford work and carry an impression of cleanliness and professionalism, but no more. It is not simple (i.e. expertly edited to the essentials). It is not simple (i.e. Minimalist) in order to achieve a certain aesthetic. It is simple, in that it is the least design and construction effort and material investment that can be conceived of at the time and within budget for moderately priced industrial-scale commercial office space that maintains a certain impression of professionalism and quality. Functionally, it is the minimum thought needed to achieve basic worker productivity and to suggest to clients that this is a frugal professional outfit but one which has certain standards.
How does one imbue a space with character and meaning? Having character and meaning are relational qualities. The strength and depth of character and meaning is dependent upon the extent to which value and protocol can be established within the vestiges of the environment and the anticipated behaviors within it. What if that environment and those anticipated behaviors are changing rapidly? What if they change so rapidly that strong patterns – attractor basins of meaning and action, to use dynamic systems jargon – do not have a chance to establish themselves? In this instance, the value of any given environment or action is decreased because the duration of its relevance temporally is greatly diminished. As a result, investment in environment and protocol has less upside, making it a lower priority for businesses/individuals/organizations. This is our situation. The interior quality of my workplace, and most places, is literally that of a sketch…it is provisional and without refinement…..though unfortunately often lacking at least the suggestive, perhaps quixotic energy of a sketch. Nonetheless, such spaces are valuable nonetheless because they allow individuals to be productive despite widely varying means, conditions and expectations.
The challenge in this is maintaining that flexibility in order to deal with the exigencies of the present while making sure to create an environment that nurture’s that which is unique in humans – our humanity. Overall, we have to do a much better job. Muted, pale, timid sketches are missed opportunities…..so, too, are the conceptual spaces within which we pass our lives.