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The global dominance of North American tall and low office building typologies throughout the 20th century was nearly total. Skylines worldwide and the physical and social structure of most suburbs are testimonies to this enormous technological, economic, social, cultural, and, of course, architectural achievement. Even the Roman Empire failed to achieve such hegemony.HDM fall/winter 2008-09. No. 29
There are many reasons for this. Two deserve particular attention from architects. The first is the extraordinary daring of architects in Chicago (and a little later in New York) in bringing together multiple technologies to create the high rise office building—in the context, of course, of an extraordinary explosion in economic activity in the U.S. in the last three decades of the 19th century—and the parallel and equally unprecedented inventiveness in real estate, engineering, and construction practice. Second is the specific intellectual debt the world owes to Frederick Taylor’s concept of “Scientific Management,” i.e., the rationalization of the processes of production to achieve greater efficiency not least in the design and construction of office buildings and subsequently in the management of the burgeoning administrative activities within them.
Will the universal success of what I have elsewhere called the “Taylorist” office ever be checked? It would seem so. The enormous increase in the power of Information Technology is well on the way to superseding the purely industrial logic that generated the North American office building. At least one alternative office typology, the essentially anti-Taylorist, “Social Democratic” office, democratically designed with input from Workers’ Councils specifically to respect and defend the rights of each individual office worker, has flourished in the very special (and almost certainly temporary) political and economic environment of post-fascist Northern Europe. Yet another architectural and urbanistic phenomenon, the “Networked Office,” which exploits information technology to create unprecedently free relationships between the physical and the virtual realms is now emerging, and it does not depend on Taylor’s temporal and spatial logic.
with this issue, harvard design magazine begins a new design and broader cultural focus.
the topic, "what about the inside?," explores the state of interiors and interiority in contemporary art, architecture, fabric design, product design, office buildings, photography, and philosophy.