Trumpf Logistics Center, Ditzingen (Photo: Ina Reinecke)
When it comes to office design, it seems that few styles stick around for long. “We have been repeatedly planning working and office environments for almost 25 years,” says Berlin-based architect Regine Leibinger, “and hardly any ‘trend’ was really lasting during all these years.” In an interview with the site World-Architects, Leibinger and Martina Bauer of Barkow Leibinger discussed the “Office of the Future,” with the general proviso that “it’s primarily the way we work, the way buildings are used that is changing—and we have to react to this.”
What exactly does this mean for working architects? “In addition to maximizing floor space,” says Bauer, “increasing flexibility and the associated provision of conversion options and technical installation is becoming ever more important.” But creating modular designs that can accommodate any number of possible technical or “smart” scenarios comes with aesthetic, and human, costs.
“On the one hand, it is an exciting task… On the other hand, this also means that everything becomes more and more interchangeable the more it is subject to pre-defined extension grids and consensus-oriented equipment and furnishings. An office world with character, an environment that is really tailored for a company, its employees and their work processes is becoming increasingly rare.”
The huge new offices of companies like Salesforce and Apple show that the bespoke office is alive and well, but also perhaps a rarified commodity. Leibinger and Bauer speak to the recent phenomenon of high-tech offices as de facto playgrounds: “there are, of course, some industries where such lounging areas or a ball pool really do fit,” says Bauer, “In our experience, however, everyday life—which is much rarer to see in magazines—looks different.” Bauer sees the necessity in most situations for “a good medium” between the extremes of distracting arcades and dystopian cubical jails.
The primary concerns for the designer remain, as they always have, an integration of form and function that centers basic needs: comfort, light, air, acoustics, social interaction. “What good is the greatest open space if everyone wears headphones to concentrate?” Leibinger asks. “How far do we want to push the depth of rooms for efficiency’s sake? To be healthy and motivated at work, you need light and air. And atmosphere. We certainly do not find the right solution at the lower limit of the workplace directive.”
Leibinger and Bauer do not address “biophilic” design trends, which aim to bring natural air, light, and growth into the office environment, or bring the office further out into nature. Perhaps such offices, like the toy-store lounges of many a tech start-up in the past couple decades, will come and go, like every trend architects have seen over the years. In any case, the basic design of the humans who work in offices is unlikely to change much in the near future.
“Perhaps the office of the future will not be so different from the office of today—who knows?” says Bauer. “We will certainly benefit from ever new technologies… but tables, chairs, windows, a coffee machine—I can imagine all this in the ‘Future Office.’ We strongly believe in the future of the office as a physical space of encounter and interaction, and not so much in science fiction.”
Read their full interview here.