Uber-modern, uber-chic workplace interior design tends to optimise technology, colour and quirk, thumbing its nose at the institutional office buildings of old.
Major modern companies such as Facebook, Google and Apple festoon their work spaces with brightly-coloured, brightly-lit office spaces that are as notable for couches, foosball tables and ‘chill out’ pods as for desks, monitors and conference rooms.
While these hedonistic interior designs are almost unrelentingly seen as being positive and productivity-enhancing, at least one critic says they may in fact be nothing more than ‘corporate kindergartens’.
Comparing the modern conception of the ‘ideal’ office space – highly left-of-centre Googleplexes and Apple Campuses – with their mid-century, industrial counterparts, William Hanley of the Architectural Record says the modern workspace has regressed to juvenility.
“While contemporary workers may regularly watch Mad Men episodes, in which professionals of another era wear dresses and flannel suits to Miesian glass towers, they are likely to be viewing them while wearing hooded sweatshirts at offices that owe more to playgrounds and dorm rooms than boardrooms,” he says.
While we often see these spaces as optimising creativity and putting the joy back into the workplace, Hanley raises a valid point: are modern workplace interior designs undermining the credibility of professionals of today?
While it has become accepted that innovators, inventors and ‘hip’ professionals should be housed in a space that is as creative, cool and modern as their ideals, few would say all professionals’ work spaces should be cast in this mould.
If the interior design of office spaces were to shift, and the modern standard spread into all of the various professional sectors, it could drastically change the workforce and how we perceive businesses. Would clients feel comfortable discussing the proceedings of an impending court case over a recycled cardboard table in the midst of a communal, collaboration-oriented workroom? Would it be more difficult investing money with a bank broker while sitting on beanbag chairs?
And perhaps more importantly, does optimising this kind of hedonistic work-style truly infantilise workers, especially in an era when young professionals are known to be later starters in the first place?
For many, the proof is in the proverbial pudding, with Google’s success suggesting that this kind of modern design has set the scene for one of the world’s most successful brands to grow and innovate.
For others, however, such work spaces would be the beginning of the end in terms of professionalism.
In the end, an office’s design is all a matter of context. Just as one would not design a child care centre with marble finishes, sharp-edged furniture and exposed wiring, certain professions do not lend themselves to hedonistic spaces.
While we glorify many modern work spaces for their innovation and idealism, they often serve simply as an ideal that, for many, would not be practical as a productive working environment.