Two film offices

From the legendary "The Apartment" (1960) to "The Social Network" (2010) we review revolutionary reform in office design.

Everyone has the disposition to work creatively. It's just that most people never notice it.

Truman Capote (1924-1964) Author of In Cold Blood

We are moved by the sad, grey life of C.C. Budd (the great Jack Lemmon) who is bullied by his bosses and peers to use his flat for his adulterous affairs, and it is his mechanical, repetitive working life and its drab, colourless scenery that impresses us most, because it crushes the workers.

The Taylorist office and the choreography performed day after day by the characters suggests a hive devoid of humanity dedicated to the production of numbers while destroying the talent, initiative and even the dignity of the employees who, perhaps inspired by this environment, indulge in shallow, selfish and macho behaviour during leisure time.

Only on entering and exiting through the enormous and magnificent lobby to go up or down in the wonderful lifts piloted by the lift operators, can we see how great architecture and engineering can illuminate, in many ways, the daily liturgies of the extras. (We remember Antana's brilliant commission to refurbish the lobby of the Beatriz building (Sáenz de Oiza's favourite in Madrid). The office is another actor in Billy Wilder's sad yet hilarious comedy, which caricatures to the extreme the very low level of interaction between the rank and file employees who are crammed into cramped facilities and the managers who are concentrated in offices on the upper floors.

Fifty years later another office, this time of the casual kind, plays a small part in another great film, The Social Network, but its design uses opposing resources to attract and inspire the creative talent of Facebook's workers.

Networking and social networking have completely reshaped office design as any company has to produce content, shall we say, of satisfaction with which to nurture its image and its relationship with its clients. All corporations are obliged to ensure that their headquarters communicate data and knowledge with dynamism, maximum interaction, talent, creativity and satisfaction, and the design of workspaces plays a key role.

In the film we are talking about, Facebook's headquarters is a free space with circular booths designed with colourful, up-to-date equipment, with employees and managers chatting on their feet, and strolling around in a relaxed manner, as if activating their creative minds through movement. That doesn't stop Mark Zuckerberg (played by Jesse Eisenberg) and his henchmen from setting an indecent trap for the other founding partner, Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield), and during the scene they engage in a violent and cruel argument. But, in this environment, neither has their dignity crushed by an oppressive office; on the contrary, the fight is diluted when the Facebookers focus on the numbers of followers that appear on the giant monitors and end up celebrating the number of followers they have reached.   

Another challenge has come as a surprise this year. A brutal epidemic has brought the office and teleworking into battle. The result... tables. The majority of workers, 70%, prefer the combined model, i.e. one or two days of telework and three or four days of work at company headquarters.

Now we have to rethink office design and refurbishment in the light of the fact that it has to compete with housing. We will soon see a film starring relationships between workers and offices redesigned for this surprising era.

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