Saturated Space, Fatty landscapes and Bloated Environments: Decoding The Working Environment
“Like a substance that could have condensed in any other form, Junksapce is a domain of feigned, simulated order, a kingdom of morphine. Its specific configuration is as fortuitous as the geometry of a snowflake. Patterns imply repetition or ultimately decipherable rules; Junkspace is beyond measure, beyond code… Because it cannot be grasped Junkspace cannot be remembered. Its flamboyant yet unmemorable, like a screensaver; its refusal to freeze insures instant amnesia”
- Junkspace, Rem Koolhaus
The Design Council has published new research into ‘low-fat office space’ where the potential workplace determinants of office buildings, such as the step count between desk space and printers, are being monitored in order to and identify and assess the reasons behind sedentary behaviour.
The research is part of Active Buildings, a new research body in partnership between the UCL Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture and is funded as part of a wider £20 million initiative by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR). By monitoring how spatial layout hinders activity, the study aims to understand the ergonomic factors behind unhealthy office lifestyles.
Active Buildings looks at the environmental causes of without addressing the underlying forces. It’s not how the space is programed but why. Positions in call centres and office administration roles rely on employers spending the majority of their time undertaking repetitive banal tasks. The modernisation of the factory floor has been supplanted by a constant feedback of data input and monotonous procedures.
The everyday taxonomy inherited from the Enlightenment, means tasks are categorised and bundled together according to reasonability and processes. The remit of service workers extends to nomenclature of office terminology – integrated platforms, pipelined communications and threads all indicate a trend in the reduction of personalised systems.
Research into public health issues attempts to disseminate theories based on the relationship between space and lifestyle, without ever dissecting the overarching ideologies that determine the use of space.
Office workers suffer from a lack of exercise not because of how space is deployed or the ergonomics of office furniture, but because their professional remits are underpinned by a homogenisation of duties. The admin assistant in HR is confined to a rigmarole of paper trails, whilst the project manager is given an intersection of responsibilities, leading to a more diverse workload.
The reasons why workers rarely leave their desks cannot be blamed on the design of their environments. It’s the architecture of their roles, the framework of responsibilities, which breeds an unhealthy workplace lifestyle.
Hot desks are often reserved for trusted, higher-up employees where the roles are generally more nuanced and complex, meaning day-to-day tasks are more varied and challenging. No two days are ever the same and it is this variety that breeds a more dynamic and engaging working environment.
If Active Buildings really wants to comprehend the reasons behind an inactive workforce, the research should focus on the workload itself rather than how it is facilitated.
Last year I undertook a course in Justice at Harvard X, the online version of Michael Sandel’s constantly oversubscribed political philosophy course at Harvard.
The rise of massive open online courses (MOOCS), has opened up a new pedagogic conundrum; what does the excessive amount of dropouts on MOOCS means for the online courses success rates? Does this mean online learning is no more than a sheer craze or does it highlight the achievements of those who complete the course?
One argument is that MOOCs are under going a hyper cycle; meaning the massive influx of registered students is not in line with the technology’s rate of maturity.
Stages of a hyper cycle are as follows
A hyper cycle in Gartner’s interpretation is comprised of five phases:
- "Technology Trigger" — The first phase of a hype cycle is the "technology trigger" or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.
- "Peak of Inflated Expectations" — In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.
- "Trough of Disillusionment" — Technologies enter the "trough of disillusionment" because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.
- "Slope of Enlightenment" — Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the "slope of enlightenment" and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.
- "Plateau of Productivity" — A technology reaches the "plateau of productivity" as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.
The craze for mass participatory online learning seems to have been met with bloated expectations and an excessive drop out rate (just 7% of people who sign up actually make it through to the end of the course).