Jobs sits in his Woodside, California home. Image Credit: Diana Walker, 1982

Maria Paez Gonzalez

Supervisor

Abstract

Supreme (In)formality

The Productive Mastery of Silicon Valley’s ‘Tech’ Corporate Architectures 

The thesis puts forward three recently built projects exemplary of contemporary social and spatial organizations of work, and its increasing indiscernibility from life.

Located in Silicon Valley –an area recognized as the fulcrum of today’s knowledge-based economy funded on the industrial-military-academic complex and its scientific innovations– and built by some of the world’s most powerful technology corporations, Apple, Google, and Facebook; these corporate architectures are paradigmatic in their exceptionality, as they embody and contain the place of its highest form of power and labour, whilst simultaneously representing the entire body of the corporate structure, along with its ideological, cultural, and concrete technological production.

Although immateriality has been attributed to these forms of production, the space and interiority of the ‘tech’ corporate headquarter, the thesis argues, on the contrary manifests architecture’s capacity to shape and be shaped by a fundamental condition of human history, the selling of our labour for wage.


Longer version:

Built in between 2011 and 2020, and located in the Santa Clara Valley, the headquarter projects for Apple, Google and Facebook have been described by the company’s public statements as ‘the best office building in the world,’as the ‘rethinking [of] office space’, or ‘a new kind of architecture.’ Intending to break with tradition and create the new, these offices, that enclose the highest forms of functional branches in charge of integrating, coordinating and negotiating knowledge labour involved in producing the supreme forms of concrete technology that shape the entirety of our social life and our worlds. Crucially, these architectures also include other forms of labour, explicitly reproductive and affective; the cooking of meals, washing of clothes, wellbeing and health of the individual’s body, and the presence of nature are choreographed into a single enclosure, rendering even its outdoor spaces as an endless interiority that encompasses the maintenance of life as such.

We tend to forget that this transformation originated in the East coast in the 1930s expanding nation-wide by the late 1950s, vis-à-vis the large scale economic shift from industrial to the production of consumer goods and services that repackaged taxpayer funded technologies developed by the industrial/military/academic complex during wartime back to the civilian public. In the corporate restructuring to cope with these changes, an autonomous branch of middle management, research and development, gained traction as a lucrative new form of labour; one that was performed by a thinking individual and that necessitated a new industrial typology for its extraction. The resulting suburban corporate campus, although largely discussed from its exterior form, was in fact shaped by its interiority whose module was subject’s own body at his desk in the office or in the laboratory, and where the early recognition of the social relations needed for its production necessitated other kind of spaces, libraries, cafeterias, and lecture halls appearing even in the earliest of examples.

In spite of the typology’s wide reaching influence, the production of knowledge in the western frontier necessitated a unique assemblage, that reflected its exceptional forms of social cooperation linked to the outlaw activity by youths whose faith in the communalist potentials of cybernetic and media theories, provided a crease for idioms of self-realization and freedom to be fused with the surging technologies. The rapport of hobbyist networks harnessed from within the garages and living rooms of the suburban cities south of San Francisco Bay thrusted personalized technology into its ideological and cultural potential, taking the rebellious nature of that initial impetus hostage, turned it carefully against itself as once again, a new form of labour, looking to be prolonged and coaxed from within the interiority of the corporate ‘tech’ headquarters.

Which brings us to question; if the ‘tech’ corporate headquarter announces the advent of a new form of rebellious production, one that is less identifiable with the realm of work than it is of the spaces for life?  What are the repercussions of this shift for the future of our labour?

The thesis looks to address these questions from within the discipline of architecture through architectural theory; supported by political philosophy, economic history, critical technology and media studies, management, and organizational theories. Structured in three main parts: a first part that situates the   economic, technological, social, ideological and political context of the west coast in particular the Bay Area; a second and central part that centres on the close reading of the three headquarter projects against historical analogous models to cast a light on the reinvention and reformulation of specific material strategies to induce this form of labour through represented liberation; and a third part that concentrates the theoretical dimensions of the material strategies recognized in the architectural, spatial and interior manifestations of the projects to foreground a projective epilogue, a conclusive piece that at the same time enables to establish a series of propositions or potentials by bringing to the foreground specific moments of the projects emblematic of their strategies through drawing and a dedicated piece of writing.

Bio

Maria is a practicing architect, an associate with Foster + Partners and a leading member in the design and construction of Apple Campus, the new Apple headquarters. She has tutored workshops in the Architectural Association and Veritas University and collaborates with Relational Urbanism in several research based projects. She is also the founding member of Fundacion HCGB which works to preserve the architectural heritage of Coro, Venezuela a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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