How come digital mobility still keeps us indoors?
Ever lamented having to answer a work call on a night out, or regretted checking your email just after leaving work to find that your co-worker needs you to come back? For better or worse, mobile technologies have made many of us into “all-hours” employees.
But strangely, smartphones haven’t made us outdoor employees. Despite the digital mobility we’ve acquired, most of us still work indoors. A research project by designer Jonathan Olivares examines why our culture of 24/7 work still hasn’t warmed up to the outdoor office.
Olivares, whose mentors include designer Konstantin Grcic, is fascinated by why we’ve adopted certain design standards. For example, a recent piece examines why drywall has become an industry standard, while his encyclopedic A Taxonomy of Office Chairs was published by Phaidon in 2011. After receiving a grant from The Graham Foundation to study outdoor workspaces three years ago, Olivares revealed his findings in a show at the Art Institute of Chicago in February.
The Outdoor Office invites visitors to explore a history of outdoor working and learning spaces, from an outdoor office used by Haitian relief workers, to outdoor meeting spaces at the Google campus in Palo Alto. A video clip from Twin Peaks shows two characters brainstorming in the woods. Olivares seems to think, quite reasonably, that being outdoors helps us think. The problem is institutionalizing the process. He and his design team also suggest three prototypes, which form a proposal for an (as-of-yet unproduced) outdoor furniture system. Recycled rubber flooring, an easily assembled tent system, and UV-resistant shading (and a plethora of outlets, presumably) make it easy to imagine these pieces in production. Olivares, for his part, sees the project as pragmatically utopian–he notes that working outdoors would drastically decrease a company’s carbon footprint.