Corporate Office Interiors in Post-war Belgium: a Genealogy of a Modern Sociotope
Today many European cities, including Brussels and Antwerp, are struggling to define the future of long term unoccupied office buildings, which mostly date from the second half of the twentieth century. While contemporary discussions on this problem largely focus on urban or architectural issues, a third, related perspective is often marginalized or neglected: that of the office interior and its different materializations. This third perspective is a crucial key for understanding not only the conceptualization, but also the abandonment or redevelopment of office buildings. After all, office design, more than many other branches of design practice, is decisively moulded by bureaucratic practices, as well as social, economic and political circumstances.
Contemporary literature on interior architecture identifies two major models of office organization and design in the second half of the twentieth century. The first is the hierarchical Taylorist office (Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Building of 1904 is one of its earliest examples) and the second is the social democratic office which emerged after the Second World War and which explicitly values human interaction and community formation. While these transnational categories are useful for sketching a broad historical overview, a more refined and detailed frame of reference needs to be developed to tackle the variety of local corporate office cultures and their material expressions. The aim of this project is to develop such a framework for post-war Belgium, based upon historical research and taking into account different national and transnational discourses and design practices that influenced the formation of the modern corporate office as a bureaucratic, socio-economic and cultural space. As such, it will allow for a better understanding of one of today’s rapidly transforming collective interiors.
PhD student working on the project: Nico Deswaef.
This project is financed and supported by the Department of Architecture, Leuven.