Amsterdam, October 2019 — I stepped on stage and knew I couldn’t proceed as planned. The previous speaker had spent 30 minutes extolling “nomadism,” speciously equating African hunter-gatherers to European knowledge workers. Virtual reality would “free us” from the office, we could connect anywhere. In other words: we could be perpetually alone and never stop working.
My talk was titled “Why even go to work?” but it seemed, before I could share the virtues of a novel office, I needed to defend something more fundamental: physical space. I asked the audience to imagine a world without offices, where all working and living happened at home with a non-stop digital connection.
What if an employer in this alternate world had the idea to create a second space, just for work, well-equipped, and built for in-person discussion? The crowd began hooting like we were in a revival tent. I opened a valve to their well of suppressed anxiety; they needed to vent.
The abrupt change caused by COVID-19 is like a fast forward button, allowing us to travel directly to the endpoint of a likely timeline created by the pervasive creeping of convenience culture. Retail was already suffering. Delivery was the rage. “Direct to consumer” baked into every new product start-up.
Skipping ahead has given us a perspective that slower change would have made obscure, and more palatable. As visitors to the panacea of DoorDash and Zoom meetings, we are collectively capable of seeing what will be lost if we give up on physical space. Flexibility without compelling options is just monotony.
We are starting this studio now, at a moment of reconsideration for offices, homes, hotels, etc. Every environment on earth will be altered in response to this pandemic. The market will reward employers, landlords, and owners who embrace these constraints without compromising the human experience — those who treat it as a creative prompt.
This is a design problem, the design of spaces, but also the design of flow and expectations. We must devise a new division of tasks across home & work; the core utility of both must be heightened, and the excess shed.
The joy of being alive is physical. We need Original Reality.
Aaron Taylor Harvey, Creative Director