Solid Futures: Office Architecture and the Labour Imaginary

  • David Adler


In organization studies, office architecture is mostly seen as an instrument for control and productivity. By taking into account the temporality of architecture within labour relations, an imagined dimension of the organization’s built space comes to the fore. For a better understanding of this dimension, this chapter turns to architectural theory, especially Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project. Using an approach grounded in discourse analysis and ethnography, the chapter presents four dimensions in which office architecture relates to the future: (1) office architecture is discursively charged with promises; (2) it produces conflicting anticipations of the future; (3) architectural aspirations have to be performed locally; and (4) office architecture stages labour’s inexhaustible potentiality. These dimensions imply that office architecture cannot be sufficiently understood only in terms of its functionality or instrumentality. Instead of simply assuring an objective technological rationalization, office architecture produces a shared imaginary of an ever more successful organization of labour.



I want to thank David Waldecker, Jens Maeße, Thomas Alkemeyer, Thomas Scheffer, Johannes Angermuller, the editors and the anonymous reviewer for critical remarks and helpful suggestions. Furthermore, I am grateful to Annika Raapke for proofreading the article.


  1. Adler, David. 2017. Die Entstehung einer Lounge. Ästhetisierung als praktischer Vollzug. In Ästhetisierung der Arbeit, ed. Ove Sutter and Valeska Flor, 33–49. Münster: Waxmann.Google Scholar
  2. Allen, Thomas J. 1984. Managing the Flow of Technology. Technology Transfer and the Dissemination of Technological Information Within the R&D Organization. Cambridge/London: The MIT Press.Google Scholar
  3. Beckert, Jens. 2016. Imagined Futures. Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics. Cambridge/London: Harvard University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Benjamin, Walter. 1983. In Das Passagen-Werk, ed. Rolf Tiedemann. Frankfurt a. M: Suhrkamp.Google Scholar
  5. ———. 2002a. Paris, the Capital of the Nineteenth Century <Exposé of 1935>. In The Arcades Project, 3–13. Cambridge/London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 2002b. The Arcades Project. Cambridge, MA/London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  7. ———. 2008. The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version. In The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility and Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin. Cambridge/London: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Braverman, Harry. 1998. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. New York: Monthly Review Press.Google Scholar
  9. Bröckling, Ulrich. 2016. The Entrepreneurial Self: Fabricating a New Type of Subject. Los Angeles: SAGE.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Castells, Manuel. 2010. The Rise of the Network Society. 2nd ed. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.Google Scholar
  11. Delitz, Heike. 2009. Gebaute Gesellschaft. Architektur als Medium des Sozialen. Frankfurt a. M./New York: Campus.Google Scholar
  12. Deutschmann, Christoph. 2011. A Pragmatist Theory of Capitalism. Socio-Economic Review 9 (1): 83–106.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Duffy, Francis, Colin Cave, and John Worthington. 1976. The Principles of Office Design. In Planning Office Space, ed. Francis Duffy, Colin Cave, and John Worthington, 3–7. London: The Architectural Press.Google Scholar
  14. Esposito, Elena. 2010. Die Zukunft der Futures. Die Zeit des Geldes in Finanzwelt und Gesellschaft. Heidelberg: Carl-Auer.Google Scholar
  15. Fitz, Angelika. 2012. Arbeiten an der Identität. In Arbeitende Orte. Büros mit Wert und Mehrwert, ed. Angelika Fitz and kadawittfeldarchitektur, 11–39. Wien/New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  16. Fritz, Hans-Joachim. 1982. Menschen in Büroarbeitsräumen. Über langfristige Strukturwandlungen büroräumlicher Arbeitsbedingungen mit einem Vergleich von Klein- und Großraumbüros. München: Heinz Moos Verlag.Google Scholar
  17. Galloway, Lee. 1922. Office Management. Its Principles and Practice. New York: The Ronald Press Company. Scholar
  18. Gartman, David. 2009. From Autos to Architecture. Fordism and Architectural Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, Jim [Bruno Latour]. 1988. Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer. Social Problems 35 (3): 298–310.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Klauck, Birgit. 2002. Vorwort. In Entwurfsatlas Bürobau, ed. Rainer Hascher, Simone Jeska, and Birgit Klauck, 8–9. Basel/Berlin: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  21. Kornberger, Martin, and Stewart R. Clegg. 2004. Bringing Space Back in: Organizing the Generative Building. Organization Studies 25 (7): 1095–1114.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Krämer, Hannes. 2014. Die Praxis der Kreativität. Eine Ethnografie kreativer Arbeit. Bielefeld: transcript.Google Scholar
  23. Latour, Bruno. 1994. On Technical Mediation – Philosophy, Sociology, Genealogy. Common Knowledge 3 (2): 29–64.Google Scholar
  24. Latour, Bruno, and Albena Yaneva. 2008. ‘Give Me a Gun and I Will Make All Buildings Move’: An ANT’s View of Architecture. In Explorations in Architecture: Teaching, Design, Research, ed. Reto Geiser, 80–89. Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  25. Law, John, and Vicky Singleton. 2000. Performing Technology’s Stories. On Social Constructivism, Performance, and Performativity. Technology and Culture 41 (4): 765–775.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Corbusier, Le. 2007. Towards an Architecture. Los Angeles: Getty Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Luhmann, Niklas. 1976. The Future Cannot Begin: Temporal Structures in Modern Society. Social Research 43 (1): 130–150.Google Scholar
  28. Markus, Gyorgy. 2001. Walter Benjamin or The Commodity as Phantasmagoria. New German Critique 83: 3–42.Google Scholar
  29. Messedat, Jons. 2005. Corporate Architecture. Development, Concepts, Strategies. Stuttgart: Avedition.Google Scholar
  30. Morton, Patricia A. 2006. The Afterlife of Buildings: Architecture and Walter Benjamin’s Theory of History. In Rethinking Architectural Historiography, ed. Dana Arnold, Elvan Alta Ergut, and Belgin Turan Özkaya, 215–228. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  31. Müller, Anna-Lisa, and Werner Reichmann. 2015. The Actions of Architecture: Constituting a New Sociology of Architecture. In Architecture, Materiality and Society. Connecting Sociology of Architecture with Science and Technology Studies, ed. Anna-Lisa Müller and Werner Reichmann, 215–246. Houndmills/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Muschiol, Roman. 2005. Begegnungsqualität. In BürobauAtlas. Grundlagen, Planung, Technologie, Arbeitsplatzqualität, ed. Johann Eisele and Bettina Staniek, 200–207. München: Callwey.Google Scholar
  33. Neufert, Ernst. 1936. Bauentwurfslehre. 2nd ed. Berlin: Bauwelt Verlag.Google Scholar
  34. Opitz, Sven, and Ute Tellmann. 2015. Future Emergencies: Temporal Politics in Law and Economy. Theory, Culture & Society 32 (2): 107–129.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Parker, Lee D. 2016. From Scientific to Activity Based Office Management. Journal of Accounting & Organizational Change 12 (2): 177–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Prix, Wolfgang D. 2013. Homland Utopia. Presented at the KunstFestspiele Herrenhausen. Hannover, June 1.
  37. Reckwitz, Andreas. 2017. The Invention of Creativity Modern Society and the Culture of the New. Cambridge/Malden: Polity.Google Scholar
  38. Remmers, Burkhard. 2011. Office Design and Knowledge Economy. In DETAIL Work Environments, ed. Christian Schittich, 27–34. Basel: Birkhäuser.Google Scholar
  39. Rief, Stefan. 2014. Das Büro der Zukunft ist Erlebnisorientiert [Interviewed by Myrta Köhler]. Competition 7: 65.Google Scholar
  40. Staniek, Bettina. 2005. Büroorganisationsformen. In BürobauAtlas. Grundlagen, Planung, Technologie, Arbeitsplatzqualität, ed. Johann Eisele and Bettina Staniek, 54–67. München: Callwey.Google Scholar
  41. Staniek, Bettina, and Claus Staniek. 2013. A Typology of Office Forms. In DETAIL Best of Office, ed. Christian Schittich, 32–43. München: Edition DETAIL.Google Scholar
  42. Steiner, Uwe. 2011. Kapitalismus als Religion. In Benjamin Handbuch: Leben – Werk – Wirkung, ed. Burkhardt Lindner, 167–174. Stuttgart/Weimar: J. B. Metzler.Google Scholar
  43. Taylor, Frederick Winslow. 1913. The Principles of Scientific Management. New York/London: Harper & Brothers.Google Scholar
  44. Thompson, Paul, and David McHugh. 2009. Work Organizations. A Critical Approach. 4th ed. Houndsmills/New York: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  45. Voss, Karsten, Günter Löhnert, Sebastian Herkel, Andreas Wagner, and Mathias Wambsganß. 2006. Bürogebäude mit Zukunft. 2nd ed. Berlin: Solarpraxis.Google Scholar
  46. Wadewitz, Felix. 2015. Büro der Zukunft. Impulse, no. 03/15: 81–87.Google Scholar
  47. Warhurst, Chris, Dennis Nickson, Anne Witz, and Anne Marie Cullen. 2000. Aesthetic Labour in Interactive Service Work: Some Case Study Evidence from ‘New’ Glasgow. The Service Industries Journal 20 (3): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • David Adler
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.Carl von Ossietzky University of OldenburgOldenburgGermany
  2. 2.Ruhr-University BochumBochumGermany

Personalised recommendations