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April Edgar

Florian Idenburg about the future of work

Florian Idenburg, co-founder ofSO-IL (Solid Objectives), recently presented his research into The Future ofWork at The Amsterdam Agenda, an extensive project informing the production of SO-Il’s upcoming book, ‘Human Work’.

SO-IL, is a forward thinking architecture and design firm, whose projects adapt to accommodate a dynamic future, creating structures that communities can engage and connect to one another and with their surroundings.

We spoke to Florian to explore his perspective on the future of work in more detail and gain an insight into the purpose of his publication.

Can you start by sharing your intentions of the book, ‘Human Work’ and what prompted you to investigate the future of work?

We are hoping to strengthen the work environment as an area of inquiry for architects and illustrate that the place where people spent most of their time is worthy of a critical review. The purpose of this book is to consider how workspaces have evolved over the last fifty years and speculate about how they might develop in the future.

Human Work presents a select history of offices arranged in four categories Hierarchy, Culture, Technology and Ecology. In addition to this, we provide an analysis of the spatial typologies that emerged within each category and explores a range of typologies that exist outside the office today, which we believe will come to influence the workplace of the future.

Through the research you’ve conducted so far, what findings have really resonated with you?

What I’ve found really interesting is how the shape of the work environment echoes of the cultural changes taking place in society. Issues of hierarchy, gender or wellbeing, all affect the design of the workplace.

We are considering the subtitle: “the architecture of good intentions” for the book as we highlight numerous powerful architectural works that have not necessarily been recognized as part of the architectural ‘canon’. We have also discovered a wide array of astonishing ‘future-casts’ –  a range of wild ideas of what the world could have become but never came to be.

‘In the past, physical space organised relationships and hierarchies, but now technology has become that organisational force and has prompted the workspace to become incredibly fluid.’

They are all interesting concepts, could you explore into more detail about how architecture has been affected by the current state of society?

I believe society changes faster than the work environment, or at least that the developments feed upon one another. As we are now working almost 100% of the day, we can stipulate that they have become one and the same.

In the past, physical space organised relationships and hierarchies, but now technology has become that organisational force and has prompted the workspace to become incredibly fluid. Physical positioning is now used less as a tool to organise structure and more as a tool to create an environment.

Company culture can have a huge impact on changes in the workplace especially regarding the agility of an organisation to transform in a rapidly changing environment.

You describe the world of work becoming fluid and mobile, how do you think furniture design will adapt to suit this in the future?

Furniture will need to inspire a variety of uses and will only need to be comfortable for shorts period of time. The furniture will also need to continue to accommodate changing technologies and for the time being, I’d argue, they should be able to provide power and connectivity.

Last year we interpreted this question through a collaboration with Knoll, creating a suite of hybrid objects that anticipate in a provocative way, the ‘post work’ environment. The furniture pieces have no predefined orientation or function and are designed for people to complete short bursts of work upon. They can be used by one person, or several and one can become fit and invigorated because they require interpretation and physical manipulation.

Can you share your predictions for the future of work?

A “lifestyle” work space is beginning to evolve, I think this will  develop further and be a place where people, especially the well educated, will do activities that seem productive but are actually not really part of any financially productive equation. It will be altruistic work, unpaid research, means of building social capital, etc. Occupations will replace jobs and won’t add the “bottom line” but they will be necessary to humanity’s survival. These will take place in sensorially rich and soothing environments.

I believe there will be a further separation between “tasks” – which is part of an ongoing shift to the“gig” economy. Many of these tasks will be automated, but there will always be jobs that need to be done by humans. I believe these will not happen in collective work spaces but through devices, in transit or far away from urban centers.

Finally, I think there will be a ‘dark’ workspace, where organisations will operate in the shadows of the economy and generate wealth and power through legal loopholes, outside of national jurisdictions, through blockchain systems. This is where the actual wealth and power will live. These environments will be mostly concerned with security and disconnection.

As for the robots, they’ll be around, patiently helping us rearrange and optimise our world…

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