Office Manuals from the Past Century Expose the Realities of Architectural Practice


© Lars Müller via Metropolis Magazine

© Lars Müller via Metropolis Magazine

The guiding principles and priorities that drive the professional practice of architecture are the subject of abundant philosophical ideas and entrenched opinions—but how can we understand the current state of the profession without sweeping generalizations? Towards that goal, OfficeUS (the experimental institution born from the US Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale) has published a book examining the realities of today’s architectural workplace culture based, like countless works of cultural studies across many academic disciplines, on the documents produced by that culture. Specifically, the OfficeUS publication compiles information from office manuals and workplace handbooks spanning the last century of architectural practice to offer a practical but insightful portrait of how architects organize, run, and view their own profession.

In a new interview with Metropolis Magazine, OfficeUS Manual editors Eva Franch i Gilabert, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, and Jacob Reidel explain their motivations for the project as well as their perspective on what this unique approach reveals about the culture of today’s architectural practice.


Editors (from left) Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Eva Franch i Gilabert, Jacob Reidel. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/storefront/24015726777'>Flickr user Storefront for Art and Architecture</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/'>CC BY-NC 2.0</a>

Editors (from left) Carlos Mínguez Carrasco, Eva Franch i Gilabert, Jacob Reidel. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/storefront/24015726777'>Flickr user Storefront for Art and Architecture</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/'>CC BY-NC 2.0</a>

In the interview, the editors explain that while many firms base their published mission statements around common goals like innovation, collaboration, sustainability and client outcomes, there are also a set of workplace traditions that become visible when comparing the handbooks that firm partners create for their employees.  For example, Carlos Mínguez Carrasco explains that “you need only have a look at the ‘Hierarchy’ section in the book, which collects office structure schemes from different offices from the last century to confirm how centralized power is in the architectural profession.”

The editors say that a central theme of their book is the fraught relationship between the ideal offices envisioned by the founding partners of firms and the reality that sets in when projects begin. Stated policies about work hours, workspace culture, and shared resource use, for example, seem to show a disconnect between how architects think they want to work and the way they ultimately end up functioning in the office. In light of these observed patterns, the OfficeUS team offers a view of the future that doesn’t shy away from drawing bold conclusions: Jacob Reidel goes so far as to say that “if we want to find a way to actually work the way we say we want to, then the profession of architecture needs to be rethought—or even jettisoned altogether.”

Read the full interview by Metropolis Magazine here; you can also purchase the book itself, OfficeUS Manual, from Lars Müller Publishers, the Storefront for Art and Architecture, and on Amazon.

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