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Eva Hagberg Fisher

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A Letter to the Parents of Prospective Architecture School Students

This article was originally published by Common Edge as "A Letter to Prospective Architecture School Parents."

Is your child suddenly wearing angular clothes and pretending to need glasses and talking about things like maylines (sorry, forgot we’re not in the 90s anymore) and 3d-printing and the power of the research lab to change the world studio? Has your child started rejecting your Frank Lloyd Wright photo books and started asking for that super sweet punched-out Chora L Works thing that makes no sense to you because there are literally holes in it? Has your child refused to go on anymore holiday house tours because, seriously mom, this is what I do all day at school?

Then congratulations! You now have an architecture school student child. And as much as we have—and need—the framework of, say, Adult Children of Alcoholics, just as deeply do we need a framework for Adult Parents of Architecture Students. You may be panicking right now. You may be wondering why Bessie is suddenly hating prints (unless she’s wearing all the prints at the same time); why Mark is rolling his eyes when you say there’s a nice-looking house for sale down the block. Rest assured, these are phases that will pass.

I would like to offer you the Phases of Architectural Education, so that you may feel calmer as you embark on this new journey:

O+A: In Search of Optimal Office Design

Although office design has dramatically and drastically changed over the course of the 20th century, we aren't finished yet. San Francisco firm O+A is actively searching for today's optimal office design, designing work spaces to encourage both concentration and collaboration by merging elements from the cubicle-style office with those popularized by Steve Jobs. In this article, originally published by Metropolis Magazine as “Noises Off,” Eva Hagberg takes a look at some of their built works.

In the beginning was the cubicle. And the cubicle was almost everywhere, and the cubicle held almost everyone, and it was good. Then there was the backlash, and the cubicle was destroyed, put aside, swept away in favor of the open plan, the endless span of space, floor, and ceiling—punctuated by the occasional column so that the roof wouldn’t collapse onto the floor plate—and everyone talked about collaboration, togetherness, synergy, randomness and happenstance. Renzo Piano designed a New York Times building with open stairways so writers and editors could (would have to) run into one another, and everyone remembered the always-ahead-of-the-curve Steve Jobs who, when he was running Pixar, asked for only two bathrooms in the whole Emeryville building, and insisted they be put on the ground floor lobby so that designers and renderers could (would have to) run into each other, and such was the office culture of the new millennium.

And then there was the backlash to the backlash. Those writers wanted their own offices, and editors wanted privacy, and not everyone wanted to be running into people all the time, because not everyone was actually collaborating, even though their bosses and their bosses’ bosses said that they should, because collaboration, teamwork, and togetherness—these were the new workplace buzzwords. Until they weren’t. Until people realized that they were missing—as architect Ben Jacobson said in a Gensler sponsored panel on the need to create a balance between focus and collaboration—the concept of “parallel play,” i.e. people working next to each other, but not necessarily with each other. Until individuality came back, particularly in San Francisco in the tech scene, and particularly in the iconoclastic start-up tech scene, where people began to want something a little different.

Yelp:  The cafeteria at Yelp's 110,000-square-foot campus in San Francisco features warm wood walls and light-emitting ropes. Image © Jasper Sanidad The Tectum ceiling panels (above) appear to be largely aesthetic. “They make a beautiful pattern, but it’s not a random one,” Cherry says. “By offsetting those vertical baffles, you’re creating a series of sound barriers, so they’re actually doing double duty”. Image © Jasper SanidadA felt canopied cabana inside the Giant Pixel offices in San Francisco. “We are open-office fanatics,” says Verda Alexander at O+A. “But it’s too simple to say a space is just open plan, because at the same time we’re creating ‘other’ spaces that mix with open-plan work areas.”  Partial acoustic and visual separation made possible by felt material manufactured by Filzfelt. Image © Jasper Sanidad Capital One Labs:  The bank has created entrepreneurial Capital One Labs in three cities: Washington, D.C., New York City, and San Francisco. The Bay Area outpost, designed by O+A, has 35 full-time employees operating in an open-plan space that looks and feels like a hotel lobby. The fully upholstered cubby is, Cherry says, “a cozy place to tuck away. Even though it’s really just a big open workplace, we also created these quiet little respites.”  The fully upholstered cubby, lined with Paul Smith Plaid cloth by Maharam, isolates sound while still maintaining a visual link to the rest of the space. Image © Jasper Sanidad+ 8