I aim to study social, cultural, and technological conditions through the lens of the architectural device known as the open plan. This project categorizes the device into three categories that represent three different types of use. The categories are not mutually exclusive designations, but rather overlapping analytical frameworks. The project seeks to establish common ground between them.
This type of open floor plan is measured in gross floor area. The commercially flexible open plan suppresses architectural specificity, and it aspires to become a neutral backdrop for an infinite number of possible activities. When a building’s primary program is the production of rents, architectural specificity becomes a financial risk. A commercially viable building must remain flexible by adapting itself to changing cultures, evolving technologies, and fluctuating markets. Because a high level of specificity makes a building more prone to market obsolescence, commercially motivated buildings tend to be generic. In the twenty-first century, we witnessed the office floor double in its depth and thickness, producing the “deep plan.” This larger floor could accommodate an optimal number of future scenarios while committing to none of them. Commercial flexibility might be interpreted as the mitigation of architecturally induced obsolescence.
The open plan operates on a symbolic register and unifies its occupants within a singular space. Because the open plan is evacuated of architectural and structural elements, it does not prescribe a specific orientation or directionality. The ubiquitous and seamless floor plan erases the distinctions between the architecture’s constituent parts, as well as between the potentially diverse set of occupants. The innate lack of hierarchy may be understood as a representation of a unified, collective group. It is not a neutral background, but rather a frame that establishes sameness.
Rubric for Production
The open floor plan is an instrumental device in both creative and industrial production. In industrial building types, the open space is scaled directly to the dimensional requirements of the production apparatuses within. The open plan, as a rubric for production, often banks on our negligence of the floor’s agency. The floor appears neutral. Because of this, the open plan is used as a kind of “watercooler” space that covertly induces desirable interactions and promotes collaborations in spaces of creative production. This paradoxical attempt to choreograph “happy accidents” within an indeterminate space leverages both the spatial flexibility and the unified appearance of the open plan. This framework is neither a neutral backdrop nor a symbolic representation. Rather, it is a gridded Cartesian surface upon which activities are scripted and performance levels are graphed.