When the Storefront for Art and Architecture moved into New York City's SoHo in 1992, the organization presented a radically new conception of the retail storefront as a Vito Acconci-and-Steven Holl-designed space for exchanging ideas about our built environment.
Now it has taken this knack for redefining traditional spaces to the lionized Venice Biennale, where Storefront director Eva Franch, together with PRAXIS coeditor Ashley Schafer and critic Ana Miljački, will recreate an architecture office inside the US pavilion.
Aptly titled OfficeUS, the installation will host a selection of five architecture activists for the six-month run of the 2014 biennale, engaging with the international event's thousands of visitors to determine new possibilities within the framework of the Rem Koolhaas-commissioned theme of "Fundamentals."
"Our thesis is that the project of modernity in the US was very much attached to an understanding of the workplace," Franch tells Architizer. As a preeminent player in the globe's quintessential forum for architectural exhibitions, the US pavilion will ask more questions than it answers: How does the office—its design, its energy, its people, its technology, its furniture, its software—affect the actual architecture it produces? Is a ping ping table vital? What new technologies might support architecture output? What will the architecture office of the future look like?
To answer the latter question, the participants will delve into the past. Mining an onsite repository of 1,000 buildings built by US architects abroad over 100 years, the five office fellows will critically re-imagine each structure within the constraints of the temporary installation. Through this investigation of the past, Franch explains, the fundamentals of the US architecture office as a microcosm of modernity will come to light. More than the intricacies of production, such as the floor, facade, or ceiling, OfficeUS will investigate the social, technological, and physical fundamentals that construct relationships in an architecture workplace.
Storefront for Art and Architecture director, Eva Franch
"Ultimately, what we want to do is not just present fundamentals, but disrupt fundamentals," says Franch. Breaking free of the echo chamber of the institutional biennale, the five office fellows will be a multidisciplinary group of "floating agents," and can include not just designers, but perhaps a political scientist, real estate expert, or even a researcher of religion.
"We are searching for very, very unique profiles that are perhaps not already present in such exhibitions, who can look at new forces, from social equity and sustainability to emerging political frameworks, and reveal the production of a society that's not trying to look into the past but into the future." This alchemy of resident savants will be further enlivened via a worldwide network of 90 chosen people who will also contribute to the office experience.
Inside the Storefront for Art and Architecture
Franch suggests that OfficeUS will reveal "things that society doesn't know it wants." The nation's inherent melting pot diversity will set the stage for reconsidering a multitude of office manifestations. "The contemporary corporate office is very much an American invention," says the Storefront director, citing the model's New York origins, the experimental offices of the West Coast, and the spaces of production in Detroit. How will the latent standardization of the hyper-efficient American office place look when it collides with the global architectural avant-garde? We'll keep you posted.