The flexible office is not meant to be a place where you nestle in. The office architecture of flexible firms requires a physical environment which can be quickly reconfigured - at the extreme, the “office” can become just a computer terminal. The neutrality of new buildings also results from their global currency as investment units; for someone in Manila easily to buy or sell 100,000 square feet of office space in London, the space itself needs the uniformity and transparency of money. This is why the style elements of new-economy buildings become what US architectural critic Ada Louise Huxtable calls “skin architecture”: the surface of the building dolled-up with design, its innards ever more neutral, standard, and capable of instant refiguration.
Alongside skin architecture, we have the standardisation of public consumption - a global network of shops selling the same commodities in the same kinds of spaces whether they are located in Manila, Mexico City or London. It is hard to become attached to a particular Gap or Banana Republic; standardisation breeds indifference. Put it another way. The problem of institutional loyalties in the work-place - now beginning to sober up managers once blindly enthusiastic about endless corporate re-engineering - finds its parallel in the urban public realm of consumption. Attachment and engagement with specific places is dispelled under the aegis of this new regime. Cities cease to offer the strange, the unexpected or the arousing. Equally, the accumulation of shared history, and so of collective memory, diminishes in these neutral public spaces. Standardised consumption attacks local meanings in the same way the new work-place attacks ingrown, shared histories among workers.
Diversity is a key advantage of living in cities but so also is the opportunity for like-minded people to choose to live close to each other. Successful cities offer both possibilities
Danh Vo, “WE THE PEOPLE” (detail), 2011. (via Danh Vo JULY, IV, MDCCLXXVI | e-flux)
Kim, who grew up in South Korea and is now based in New York, describes these strange characters in his performances and videos, often drawing with a pen as he talks, on tracing paper and transparencies, and regularly accompanied by music. He speaks softly, with almost a slight whisper to his voice, as though confiding a secret, drawing us into his confidence. ‘I know that it doesn’t matter if things are true or not, but this is a true story,’ he says at the beginning of his film From the Commanding Heights 2007, before launching into the story about the woman with the snake-filled neck. This sense of ‘truth” is clearly an altered one, but it’s an interesting quirk of language that when someone tells us that what we are hearing is a true story, it changes the way we receive it, even if what we hear is utterly fantastical. It has a sense of truth to it. The second story in From the Commanding Heights is almost believable, however. We are shown the block of flats in Seoul that Kim grew up in, which, he says, was blighted with constant powercuts. Rumour had it that the reason for these was an affair between the president, Park Chung-hee, and a beautiful actress who lived in the building – apparently, he would order blackouts so he could enter under cover of darkness. One gets the sense from this story that the actress has little choice in the matter of the affair, and that she is somehow connected to the woman with the snakes in her neck. (via Taking a story for a walk | Tate)
Philippe Vergne on Thomas Hirschhorn’s Ode to Gramsci