the politics of the office

[In] the new, post-Taylorist office, (...) discipline is achieved through rather subtle, symbolic means: spectacular, richly decorated receptions and clients' areas which blur the lines between work and fun; colourful, stylish 'breakout' areas and staff 'amenities' provided as a trade-off for the loss of personal space in the now widespread 'non-territorial' offices, where there are no assigned desks; a system of spatial 'status markers' – quantity and quality of furniture, décor, amount of space per person, location within the floor and the building, – put in place to signal hierarchical relations of power, reflecting wider systems that influence life in industrialised society, where material possessions often signify social status.


The above is an excerpt from my PhD practice-based thesis, in the context of which I developed this long term project (4 years). My aim was to use photography to investigate working conditions in the service industries, based on the hypothesis that these were based on power relations that did not restrict themselves to a top down employer/ employee relation, rather they were more wide and insidious, creating a subject in the Foucauldian sense: the productive (office) worker.

As in Open Plan, I set to examine the space where work took place: the vast, imposing offices of the service industries in London, themselves the agents and locus of power. Prominent in city centers, the skyscrapers they occupy defining the "skyline" of metropolises around the world and signifying their power in society, these offices have a history, that goes hand in hand with that of the Industrial Revolution and then surpasses it, to become the dominant workplace of the "developed" north western world. Throughout its history, the office has been a machine to produce (docile, productive) workers, using as corrective and shaping tool its layout and design.

To investigate this, I sought and obtained access to the offices of nearly 50 companies in the City of London and Canary Wharf (from around 500 contacted), including banks and investment banks, hedge funds, private equities, law firms, insurance and reinsurance firms, corporate consultancy firms, accountancy firms, recruitment agencies and advertising firms, and photographed their offices and their different areas, devoid of people.