The theme for this past Venice Architecture Biennale, “Reporting from the Front,” addressed the immediate complications that the built environment is experiencing in some settings—from housing shortages to underserved communities starved for education facilities—and called for participants to come up with solutions that would ultimately better people’s lives. Proposed by this year’s director and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Alejandro Aravena, the biannual event saw a myriad of examples. American filmmaker Gary Hustwit's answer to the Biennale's question was premiering a documentary focusing on an everyday setting that affects millions: the modern workplace.
Presenting another take on how design plays a role in our lives, Hustwit’s Workplace focuses on the history of the office layout and what’s to come with the digitization that has affected millions of professionals’ day-to-day functions. Made in collaboration with international advertising agency R/GA—known for projects such as the visual-effects for 1978's Superman, in which they made it appear as though the words during the opening credits were flying off of the screen—the film follows the renovation of R/GA's New York headquarters by British firm Foster + Partners, and examines how the project adjusts gap between the built space for the effects of the digital age. As noted on Hustwit’s website, while work habits of professionals have changed rapidly with the influence of the Internet, workplace layouts have failed to adapt to that shift.
The renovations by Sir Norman Foster, Hon. FAIA's firm were geared more towards collaboration—included condensing the company on to two floors inside a 1960s Brutalist building at Manhattan's Hudson Yards. Previously, the ad agency was split between four separate buildings in Hell's Kitchen. Once the site was chosen, interior concrete partitions were taken out and a staircase was integrated to unite the floors.
To accommodate digital functions, the office is built on top of a raised floor to allow 113 miles of cables to run through the space, according to Fast Company. Other notable features include a metal framing system that hangs from the ceiling, providing movable walls that employees can maneuver to build out temporary partitions along the open floor space, adjusting desks, and communal workspaces.
As the most recent addition of Hustwit’s cinematic oeuvre, the film falls in line with his prior subject matter, featured in the director's Design Trilogy—the trio of Helvetica, Urbanized, and Objectified. Workplace brings to light how everyday spaces and objects influence how people function when inhabiting and using them—for better or worse.
Workplace will continue to play at the Venice Architecture Biennale until Nov. 27.