“With every new building the first task is to clarify the needs that will arise in context of its use”,1 opined Peter Behrens on December 10th 1912 at the official inauguration of the new administrative HQ for the Prussian industrial concern Mannesmannröhren-Werke AG.

And while Peter Behrens was certainly not the first to opine such, with the so-called Mannesmann-Haus in Düsseldorf he realised one of the earliest large office buildings designed to evolve and develop as those needs evolved and developed.

Mannesmann-Haus, Düsseldorf by Peter Behrens

Not the Situla itself.

But rather what is depicted on that small, delicately carved, 10th century ivory object: the four Christian Evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, busy writing their gospels while seated at height-adjustable desks…….

<em>La Situla del vescovo Gotofredo</em> (photo Dominik Matus via commons.wikimedia, CC BY-SA 4.0)

While understandings of form, of beauty, in context of the objects with which we surround ourselves continually evolve and develop, understandings of function are, generally, much more stable. Or at least are once they have been identified, understood and normalised.

Something that can be studied and appreciated in Thomas E. Warren’s Centripetal Spring Chair…..

A Centripetal Spring Chair by Thomas E. Warren for the American Chair Company with tapered back and armrests (Image © and courtesy Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn)

As previously noted, the (hi)story of the office is long and has its origins in functions and individuals rather than physical spaces; its understanding evolving over the course of several centuries as those functions/individuals gradually became synonyms for their physical place of activity. Before in the course of the 19th century its understanding became increasingly institutionalised, not least against the background of increasing commerce, industry and civic administration, and leading to the emergence of the “office building” as an identifiable branch of architecture; something, arguably, most popularly associated with the skyscrapers of Chicago, and in which context Louis H Sullivan penned the (fateful) words “form ever follows function, and this is the law.1

A law, tenet, understanding, option, that Sullivan’s former employee, and in many regards pupil, Frank Lloyd Wright developed to a milestone of office building design with his Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York.

The Larkin Administration Building by Frank Lloyd Wright in Buffalo New York (photo ca 1906)

Back in the year 1 BCE, Before Corona Epidemic, we developed a plan to use 2020 to tour through contemporary office design, a tour to be undertaken both physically and theoretically.

A very simple plan developed in the knowledge that in October the Orgatec office furniture fair would be staged in Cologne, and that such a tour would, hopefully, allow us to approach Orgatec 2020 from differentiated and manifold perspectives.

And a simple plan, which, and as with all simple plans, proved more difficult than anticipated. And became all but impossible in the year 1 CE. Or at least the physical part did, the theoretical part remains unaffected. And as older, more loyal, readers will understand, we’re at our happiest with the theoretical components of life.

Thus in the coming weeks we will present a series of (desk bound) reflections and considerations on aspects of both the contemporary office and contemporary public/civic/commercial interiors, whereby our Design Calender post on the opening of the 1993 exhibition Citizen Office at the Vitra Design Museum can be considered an official unofficial first step….. one originally planned as a fourth or fifth step…….

By way of a fuller introduction, and an explanation that despite the unequivocal title the smow Blog #officetour isn’t limited to offices , the text we’d written as the original introduction…..

The smow blog #officetour, first the theoretical path, then the open road.....

With the exhibition Citizen Office the Vitra Design Museum staged not only their first conceptual, research based, exhibition, but also one of the first museal reflections on “the world of the office”.

Reflections which not only pointed towards new directions and understandings then, but which offer insights and lessons for today…….

Citizen Office as visualised by James Irvine