Work Environments 2: Glass Works

This studio is the second of three sponsored by the furniture company Knoll that examines, through research and design, the disruptive transformations that occur globally in work environments.

Work Environments
In a capitalist system that continuously demands increased profits, the perpetual quest to optimize the workforce is an essential activity. In this equation, the workplace is a key component. A well-conceived work environment can reduce costs through optimization and increase productivity through comfort. As a result, work has historically shaped urban and architectural typologies. Yet even more than domestic space, the work environment is prone to be affected by technological and societal change, putting its status in permanent flux. Today, technology has not only disrupted spatial orders but also the way work is portrayed and experienced. Office work has shifted from repetitive assignments to creative and innovative tasks. Terms such as playbour, enterprise gamification, and hackathons suggest a general “ludification” of work, a merging of leisure and obligation. Despite this apparent freedom, the transformation of the worksphere nonetheless continues to rely on labor, both in the office and the production spaces that support it. The constant drive for innovation requires both creativity and construction. To this point, the studio focuses on two interrelated domains of work – the laboratory and the factory – and examines their impact on the traditional office.

The Laboratory
Begun as a space for the individual pursuit of discovery, the laboratory transformed through the twentieth century into a truly corporate and governmental work environment. Collaboration and communication are seen as vital to invention, but control and discretion are necessary to maintain order and protect findings. While “mad scientists” may still exist as necessary engines of invention, they must be isolated and placed under observation. The laboratory must reconcile the fundamental contradiction of being both an experimental space, which embraces exploration and inefficiency in pursuit of discovery, and a controlled space, in which potential volatility is contained and examined.

The Factory
The factory emerged out of and soon overtook the workshop as the primary space of production in the 19th century as industrialization placed new demands of efficiency and output on the worker and company. The factory was originally devised to take advantage of the resources surrounding it, shaped by rivers and mines. National and global networks liberated the factory from its surroundings, focusing attention on the building’s interior and the processes of fabrication. It is an optimized space that manages and directs serial production. Yet it is also a generic typology that can be located wherever there are workers and network demand.

To understand and test the potentials of these work environments, the studio will develop around the spatial and organizational structures of Corning Incorporated. Through its commitment to research and development, Corning exemplifies the potentials of communication between the distinct environments of the laboratory and the factory, suggesting a model of work that, while structured, remains open to change. The studio will visit Corning’s headquarters in Corning, NY and examine linked environments of production and the potentials of glass within the built environment. Students will study both conceptual and ideological origins of work environments, as well as the overlap and interaction between spaces. Findings will be developed through scenarios and design projects addressing the multiple scales of the company, the city, and the worker.

Teaching Associate: Duncan Scovil