New London Architecture

From the Archive: The Office - London’s Workplace

Friday 19 June 2020

Peter Murray

Peter Murray

Curator-in-chief

In 2006 NLA studied The Office - London’s Workplace. The title owed much to David Brent’s peak popularity at the time but its messages still resonate at a time when we are wondering what  shape the workplace will be in once we get back to ‘normal’ 
 
The exhibition illustrated how the communications revolution — from the progressive miniaturisation of computers to increased mobility enabled by the rise of the mobile phone and internet technologies — had radically shifted both the physical office and our perceptions of where it is and how it operates.
 
From the shrinking of the mainframe computer and the development of the Apple Mac, PCs and slimmer, flatter screens, space requirements the show looked at game-changing technology.
 
“Tele- and remote-working have become much more possible, with emails-on-the-go and teleconferencing effectively reducing the need to travel, even (ironically) in an age where air transportation is far easier and more affordable. Today, some 3.2 million people in the UK 'telework', with about 250,000 more doing so every year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
 
Remember, this was in a period when the Blackberry was the market leader and before the iPhone was launched by Steve Jobs at the Macworld convention on January 9, 2007.
 
The City of London Corporation had just teamed up with The Cloud to provide WiFi connection. “With this mobility comes greater freedom, though work time and leisure time is constantly blurring as a result,” we wrote.
 
We described how companieswere opting to have 'front of house' operations in cities and 'back of house' operations where staff and premises are cheaper. With administration departments the north of England, Scotland — or even India. “One logical extension of this is that there will be front of house cities and lower-rent back of house cities, linked by hi-tech communication,” our commentary ran.“Another pressure is from teleworkers — people who work from home - who only visit the office once or twice a week to 'dock' or have meetings.
 
The catalogue describes how the history of the office is littered with projections of the future and that it was clear that several factors were impacting on the design of the workplace:
 
The pace of information technology will continue, mobility will be enhanced, the speed and quality of communications will get faster and better.
 
Companies’ carbon footprints will be a major factor in decisions on location and layout.  With development at higher densities around transport hubs within mixed-use developments.
 
The survival of the office has as much to do with our social needs as it does with administrative efficiency
 
The workplace can be anywhere, anytime - thus the office of the future needs to be able to attract the best staff, retain them and keep them happy.
 
The history of the office may well be littered with ideas of a future that never happened but it is encouraging to see that the projections we set out in 2006 have pretty well come to pass. The thinking presented in The Office - London’s Workplace becomes even more relevant as we try to ascertain the impact of COVID 19 on the way we work. The NLA will continue to keep you informed of the changing nature of work and workplace - so watch this space!


Peter Murray

Peter Murray

Curator-in-chief


Work

#NLAWork


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