Work & the City

/ Karen Pickering / Creative Workspace

Has our attitude to work really changed? The Calvinist tradition celebrated the work ethic. It speculated that through necessary toil we will be rewarded, well at least some of us. For many of us, whether voluntarily or not having to work longer for that ‘reward’, what has certainly changed is the nature of work. For many the toil associated with our industrial manufacturing world – real work - has been relocated elsewhere in the world. For those left behind, the work we do is different. The digitisation, the extension of our thoughts rather than our manual effort has been critical to the transformation.

Workplaces have changed in response. Where once the desk space seemed jammed to capacity with an associated assortment of furniture, implements and storage, where sharing information was prolonged, and tortuous, this has all been absorbed and transformed by the digital screen. It's ubiquity and key, its relocatability allows us both to file, store and share in completely new ways. No matter what activity, or organisation they now all share that medium, and whilst the focus of the activity is different the tools, techniques and methods of communication and dissemination are similar.

So in our office projects, in our universities, schools and health buildings similar space typologies serving them all are emerging. The mix between cellular and open space has become the common denominator of these projects with the emergence of a new spatial language of the workplace, exploring the heightened importance of the interconnecting social volumes that link them and the urban spaces between them.

We have been here before, the dense pack of the Victorian tenemental city accommodated a whole range of workspace and workshop densely configured to facilitate interconnections and access by new urban populations. The incompatibility of activities were suffered rather than addressed, but the result was an intense urban experience captured in James Joyce’s texts on Dublin. Later twentieth century thinking, in part addressing these incompatibilities, tended to isolate these workplaces in out of city centre locations - in exploiting the new found mobility of the car they found a need for inordinate amount of space for car parks! If that mobility we have taken for granted is no longer assumed, that a work force needs more than simply a digital desk in a field, the return to a more compact relationship with each other might be anticipated. The model is already there – the city.

Key then to our holistic examination of the new workspace is the exploration for the integration of these projects into the city. By asking how they are they connected and embedded we can begin to stimulate how a broader interpretation of the idea of work can contribute to the quality of our lives and the future of the city.