“Work and its spaces”: a history of offices with multiple ambitions


It is a tertiary building whose work rooms look like open space. The offices of employees are teeming with innovations, you can work there like at an architect’s table. The well-being of the employees was thought out by the client and set to music by the architect Franck Lloyd Wright. On the walls, “corporate” values ​​are engraved: “generosity”, “imagination”, “cooperation”… Called Larkin Building, this building was built in Buffalo (New York) in… 1906.

In his work Work and its spaces, Jean-Pierre Bouchez, director of research at the University of Paris-Saclay, offers us a dive into the history of work and its spaces. It allows you to discover, as in Buffalo, avant-garde designs that have made history. This is the case of the first non-permanently allocated offices and the concept of “non-territoriality”, which emerged in the 1970s on an experimental basis at IBM. When designing this flex-office before the time, we are already wondering about the consequences of such an organization of space on the communication and the performance of the teams.

While it underlines the precocity of certain spatial strategies, the book also shows how much they are the result of a conjunction of factors. They are progressing at the rate of innovations in construction and in communication technologies. They are also and above all driven by the managerial aims of entrepreneurs.

Front line managers

Thus the work on luminosity can be carried out for the purpose of social control. Mr. Bouchez cites the example of a building built in 1886 in Nebraska: “In addition to the glazed roof, both the interior and exterior walls are adorned with large windows. » The occupants of closed offices are thus permanently exposed to the gaze of others. “Only senior executives are then entitled to an office allowing great privacy, thanks to a private light source”he says.

The history of the places tells of multiple ambitions, sometimes difficult to achieve. The book thus shows the complexity for flex offices of meeting all the promises they are supposed to keep. Real estate costs are certainly reduced, but at the same time “increasing the collaborative performance of users” And “Improving comfort and well-being at work” are “far from being demonstrated(s) »notes the author.

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The book then emphasizes that recent developments in offices place managers in the front line. The changes at work must be supported. In the flex offices first of all, where can the“emotional insecurity” employees and the feeling that they are interchangeable. Likewise, “Collaboration cannot be decreed”exposes the author, who explains how the framework must have a leading role in open spaces.

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