Towards an Ideal Plan
Rome
2011

Through a critique of the conventional Typical Plan, this project explores the possibility that the generic office space be adapted to suit an even more flexible typology that easily moves between living, working and leisure. Because of the shift in mode of production towards networked individuals and work becoming more inseparable from our life in general, the proposed Ideal Plan perforates the continuous plane of the Typical Plan, tearing open areas for living and sinking into it pockets for privacy. The project becomes a manifestation of the position of creative labour in our society and proposes a new type of housing for creative workers, ironically, in the form of a factory.

City Regeneration

The current form of Typical Plan is going to disappear when the next shift in production reaches the masses. Most clearly we can identify the first huge shift in the mode of production after industrialisation and mass production if we simplify the occupational classifications to the white-collar/blue-collar division . When most of the industrial blue-collar work started to move away from the main cities, it left behind empty districts, ghost towns that still give moral fibre to many western cities. Growing number of white-collar work and growing number of buildings blessed with the efficient Typical Plan started to emerge from these ghost towns. The Industrial buildings were seen dirty and as resource wasteful and un-efficient and the developers saw the opportunity in the Ruins and started building the new city on top of the impurities of the city. This new city was bold, neutral and generic and the redevelopment’s working method resembled one of a manic-depressive cleaner’s, replicating and extruding the Typical Plan and erasing as much character and culture as possible. “As in the scene of a crime, the removal of all obvious signs of the perpetrator characterises the true typical plan; its authors form an avant-garde of architects as erasers. Its unsung designers — Bunshaft, Harrison and Abramovitz, Emery Roth — represent vanishing acts so successful that they are now completely forgotten.” Koolhaas describes the urban regeneration process in Typical Plan.

The New Worker

Unlike before, one cannot anymore relate the shirt colour classification to a socioeconomic status: a skilled blue-collar worker can easily earn much more than a professional white-collar office worker. Traditionally sociologists have seen occupation as the most important fact to set a person into a position in the society. People with similar occupation seemed to consume and use also their leisure time in a similar way. Today the precarious sociologist has to dig much deeper. Globalisation has been a major reason for having occupations spread into much smaller divisions where pieces of the traditional blue-collar and white-collar work are overlapping each other relentlessly, merging into a mode of production where as we all know the colour of the shirt does not play any role. Our uniform can be anything from Savile Row’s bespoke tailored suits to no shirts at all. The most recognisable element of this mode of production is that it consists principally of precarious work and that it becomes closer to our living as a whole; production becomes a way of life. This has been tried to synthesize by calling these new workers as Creative Class by Richard Florida among the others , but the truth is much larger than Florida implies. Even the term is hopelessly incorrect because the phenomenon is not related to a specific Class: it does not refer to any social, economical or cultural hierarchy and it is not only the new Creative Industries that are affected or creating the change in the mode of production but the entire range of occupations, the production as a whole.

As working and living are becoming more and more inseparable, the Koolhaasian Typical Plan will start showing clearly where it fails. Ironically he embraces “You can only be in Typical Plan, not sleep, eat, make love” without recognising that this will signify the fatality of the Typical Plan. If the typical Plan has been a repressed building typology in Europe because of the heritage, historical burdens and the recent fetishism of eccentric individual forms, that is nothing compared to the enormous crisis that it is obtaining when one cannot separate any longer working, sleeping, eating or love making from each other. As Koolhaas puts it, “business can invade any architecture” and if the business is given a choice in the future, from these reasons it would not choose Typical Plan as we know it. The coming shift in the social structures of labour and mode of production will make most of the deep plan, low ceiling buildings redundant and what is the poignant part is that what was once thought as the most opportunistic space in terms of usage will become the opposite, the space without any use.

Plan to Organise Labour

Typical Plan has stayed almost in the same form for about a century, the exterior has changed from heavy to light, opaque to transparent but little has changed in how it affects the idea or structure of the building. The focus has not been in developing the building framework but the office layout, the organisation of production. It has gone through an evolution that cannot be dismissed when analysing Typical Plan. One of the most thorough architectural researches done on this area is by Frank Duffy. His career has seen office design from many viewpoints: as a method of office landscaping in the 1960s, to a facility management and all the way to the importance of the virtual networks. All these methods can be seen as a way of organising production more efficiently, which is exactly the same motive which was creating the experimentation at Kahn’s factories. Now what if efficiency becomes an un-measurable quality? Because of the nature of the occupation changes and because work merges to our living, we can be producing more efficiently when sitting on a bus stop than by sitting on our desks in the office.