JBU (2014) 1/2 | Review | Working With/In

Marina Mihaila. (2012). Office Architecture + Technology. Bucharest: Ion Mincu University Press. ISBN 978-606-638-020-1.
Review by Maria Bostenaru Dan

This book is a bilingual volume (Romanian and English) based in part on the doctoral work entitled “Working with/in New Office—Concepts & Technology”, submitted by the Author at Ion Mincu University of Architecture and Urban Planning in Bucharest. The study includes two parts. The first is entitled “From Idea to Demarche”, and has an introductory character. The second bears the title of the book. A general bibliography, plus some data and illustrations conclude the work. The first chapter offers a summary of the doctoral thesis.
“Working with/in” is the name of the author’s theory on how to approach architectural issues and challenges. The office building is seen in the broad context of the city, “working with” the office space. However, both the indoor architecture and climate—influenced by artistic and technological means—are important, and these relate to the detailed conformations given by the architectural programme of the office with the “working in” approach. If “working with” the mineral dimension of the city as conglomerate of buildings in a cityscape is important, “working in”—the human dimension of the users to whom the building adapts—is also important. Beyond lines drawn in an architectural plan is the detailed appearance of the finishing, the architectural interior, and the building’s physical comfort and safety on a detailed scale.
Thus, “Working with” represents a first step of design work. Current development in cities was marked by the rise of towers in some low rise neighborhoods, and many of these are office buildings. Hence, the research focused on the problem of density in the urban landscape. Density is seen either as vertical or extensive mass growth, but in both cases it involves the addition of new functions and activities. This way the city fights against the functional segregation from post-WWII. Textures define zones that get a central character through the addition of office buildings. This is an advanced approach to urban structure; to urban form and function. Work and residence are not always separated anymore. This is one of the aspects covered: the way contemporary office buildings play a role for the public space and the cityscape. However, the investigation continues in more detail on the spatial conformation of the building itself, including interior architecture and the technical conformations which lead to better indoor climate as well as general structural security. The meanings and the role of office space are spanning thus from urban scale to building scale, at the latter, up to the dimension of the office room.
Many of the issues raised are in close connection with the contemporary challenge of sustainability. On the urban scale, one can look at office towers as a landmark to follow the legibility of the city, and question the influence on the urban landscape in competition with historical landmarks and neighborhood characteristics. The study reviewed such new office towers in the cities, built by star architecture studios. As the author is both a practicing architect and a design studio lecturer at the university, she has a great interest in both creating and teaching contemporary architecture. The work reviewed here has thus a double focus on theoretical and applied research: lessons are learned from theory for practice and from practice for theory.ù

The architecture project is seen in need of a conceptual underpinning as a response to issues such as sustainable urban development and appropriate density for historical neighborhoods in which office buildings have to be contextually integrated. In this regard, the work responds to the “museum dimension” of the city—the whole city as museum, not only its buildings. Heritage neighborhoods do not have to become museums, but be open to development as they were throughout history. Contemporary architecture has to adapt to the context, through integration or contrast. The “museum dimension” contributes to legibility by creating traces. The concept is seen on both the urban integration and architectural conformation dimension, up to detailed technology and finishing.
Going into the detail of the office room, at “working in”, daylight and a good thermal and visual comfort are assured by the latest technologies. These are connected with a current challenge of sustainable environment, namely that of energy. In current international research, attention is paid to energy research and the low carbon society. In office buildings, numerous forefront approaches to assure this have been tried—for example, intelligent façades. Since Le Corbusier, daylight has also been assured by the vertical challenge of the building itself. Le Corbusier’s utopia in providing contested alternatives to historical neighborhoods was not the only one in designing towers, which always challenged architects since the dream of Icarus to fly, and the Bible story of the stairs to heaven. From the concept there has been just one step to utopia, and sometimes to manifestos. Some of the ideas in history that were utopia or manifesto, such as Sant’ Elia’s or F.L.Wright’s dreams, became possible with later technology. Also in this work and within the doctoral thesis, utopia has thus been proposed as a study model.
A continuation of the book promises to offer a dictionary of terms related to the topic, and a description of the proposed utopia.
Architecture theory books are rare in the publishing landscape. Mihaila’s work offers an appreciated contribution to contemporary architecture. Office buildings are an architectural program that responds through the current building typology (the tower) to the technological possibilities in structures of the 20th and 21st centuries. At the same time, current environmental challenges pose requirements on their integration from both an urban development and a climatic point of view. The work extensively analyzes these issues from the dual viewpoint of “working with” and “working in” office building space. For this content, the book is recommended to both theoreticians and practitioners of architecture, and for practitioners and those who want to be practitioners (students) to learn the concepts behind design and how to design in a conceptual way after knowing the theory behind. This is also for theoreticians to analyze the development of these emblematic and often preservationist-contested landmarks of the contemporary city—from utopia to reality. The curriculum of the Author is guarantee of both aspects.

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