July 28, 2014
The currently voguish idea that ‘sitting kills’ finds an interesting interpretation in this conceptual office design by Dutch architects RAAAF and the artist Barbra Visser. Designed with the good intentions of encouraging movement, the hellish outcome has the aesthetics of a stealth bomber crossed with an underpass in Peterborough reimagined by MC Escher, the functionality and appeal of a Snowdonian potholing weekend and is populated by 21st Century hipsters and band members of Kraftwerk. This is the Outstanding Landscape of Affordances, commissioned by the Netherlands’ Chief Government Architect and set to become a real installation in Amsterdam next year. To be fair, the blurb does describe the idea as ‘a first step towards a future in which standing at work is the new norm’, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore its catastrophic shortcomings, even as a talking point.
“It is designed out of a thousand different possibilities for working in positions between standing and laying,” goes the blurb. “The key is that the sculpture’s affordances stimulate people to take up different working positions during the day and promotes concentration. The richness of this landscape of affordances gives people the freedom to find the optimal position for their different tasks during the working day. This vision presents a radical break with regular office furniture and current working models such as “flex-working”, which all are still based on sitting.”
Just to make the break from convention crystal clear, the visuals feature the unmistakable figure of Jacques Tati, cropped from the film Playtime, and typically used to illustrate the dehumanising effects of the office cubicle.
While its intentions are undoubtedly good, both the architects and the artist have bizarrely forgotten that workplaces are about people. What they have created in the name of human welfare is the antithesis of humane office design. There is no room in this vision for anybody over the age of about 40 and certainly nobody disabled. It looks like an acoustic nightmare, is inhuman in scale and materials, is gloomy, counter-intuitive and isolating. It is the opposite of everything it claims to be.