Corporate Workspaces, Interior Design Aesthetics and Social Dialectics
A Blog Post by Pablo Markin.
In his article, Stefan Werning has inquired into the interrelations between the aesthetic aspects of technology firms’ office environments and their “rhetoric of creativity, collaboration and disruption” (428). The starting point for this research in the domain of organizational aesthetics is the observation that “[w]orkspace design has become a key strategy for technology companies and start-ups alike to attract and motivate the most talented and dedicated employees” (428).
As this paper delineates theoretically, “Taylor and Hansen refer to “aesthetics as connection” (1215), arguing that if “our feeling of what it is to be part of a group is expressed through aesthetic forms, then aesthetics must be the foundational form of inquiry into social action” (1215)” (430). In conjunction with this perspective, this research also deploys the concept of social affordances that can be defined as ““socio-technical systems” (Leonardi et al. 38), i.e. as “material constraints on social action that cannot be removed through social interpretation” (222)” (431). To perform its analyses, this study has utilized “photographs (rather than, e.g. first-hand experience or video footage) as a basis for reconstructing the experience of the workspace” (432). More broadly, Werning also brings to bear on his findings the Theodor W. Adorno’s notion of “the dialectic of work and play (or: pleasure) […] pointing out how the artificial discursive separation of the two spheres mimics the societal distinction of production and consumption” (433).
In this context, this author has explored “a tenuous balance between unbridled (and sometimes subversive) playfulness—drawing on Sicart’s reflections on “playgrounds” (Sicart 49-51)—and spaces designed to evoke specific game situations that can be more deliberately curated by the respective company” (434). Among the insights of this article is that, “[a]s contemporary workspaces […] obtain more and more media-like qualities, their design increasingly exhibits aspects of worldbuilding” (437). More specifically, this paper largely concludes that, “[w]hile […] tech workspaces across the world aspire to become self-contained worlds, they simultaneously exhibit an increasingly formalised, globally homogeneous design language largely devoid of cultural idiosyncrasies” (438). Moreover, Werning adds that “tech workspaces can be regarded as a form of walk-through corporate aesthetics, a continuation of the respective company’s corporate rhetoric and neoliberal ideology” (439).
By Pablo Markin
Featured Image Credits: 2. Truth Coffee Interior by Haldane Martin, Photo Micky Hoyle, August 21, 2012 | © Courtesy of Micky Hoyle/Haldane Martin/Flickr.