Through his architecture office series, photographer Marc Goodwin immortalises and reveals the stories of architecture spaces worldwide. As a project which started in the Northern countries, ‘architecture offices’ has now expanded to include offices in major European cities as well as China, Seoul and Dubai. From small to large scale, anonymous to famous Marc seeks to explore how a studios ethos is ‘expressed in their work environment – or more scientifically, to see if I could falsify such a claim.’
Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura
Ricardo Bofill Taller de Arquitectura
What prompted this last ‘office’ series?
I was commissioned to shoot the first office in the Nordic series and thought it would be a good idea to develop my own story. I did a city per week for 4 weeks for the first publication. And that was meant to be the end of it. But it was so popular that it kind of snowballed. But it was also kind of a personal challenge. One of the main reasons I became a photographer instead of an architect is that I have kind of a phobia of offices. Or at least I used to. Having now been to 150 I think I am cured.
What defined the selection of offices you chose to shoot?
I aim for 5 big corporate offices, 5 medium sized offices and 5 small ones in each city. I also avail to include a mix of famous architects and relative unknowns. Each story is an approximation of these goals.
How and to what extent do these ‘studios’ reflect the personality of the architects operating in them?
I am still trying to work that out. I did a phd not so long ago, and I kind of view this as data collection for later content analysis. The impression I have at the moment is that there is a clear distinction between two categories: corporate / other. The many of corporate offices I’ve visited could be anything from law offices to investment banks to commercial real estate to telesales. They are the kind of anonymous, interchangeable, impersonal non-spaces Andreia Alves de Oliveira focussed on with her offices series a few years ago. Desks and computers, false ceilings, strip lighting, ugly carpets, filing cabinets, printers, white walls. However, not all big firms fall into that category. Some of the very famous ones I have photographed have signature spaces that reflect their practice or at least communicate a very strong sense of place. Compare Fosters with Snohetta with 3XN with Piano with Archiunion. None are interchangeable. This is because they have invested a lot in that space: time, money, effort. It was that which initially intrigued me. To see how a company ethos was expressed in their work environment – or more scientifically, to see if I could falsify such a claim. On the whole, it’s a difference between HQ vs branch office for the big firms, and is perhaps beyond the budget of some of the smaller spaces. Rent is expensive and many companies are doing what they can to survive. That too is expressed spatially.
Foster + Partners
What were some interesting surprises you discovered amongst offices and countries?
On the whole I found, the bigger the city the more business-like, structured and hierarchal the environment. The atmosphere in the nordics was far more laid back than in London, Paris, Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul. Also, it kind of hits you when you walk in whether are not these are happy places. I believe that has to do with the degree of tension. In some studios, people are walking on eggshells, in others its nearer the early episodes of Madmen. And that has nothing to do with size. Some of the small trendy spaces are the most tense. Apart from that, surprises galore in terms of the kind of spaces used. Refits have been a repeated delights, especially repurposed industrial spaces with Bofill at the very top of that list.
When photographing the diverse offices, what was you approach? Were there particular nuances you wanted to reveal singularly or did you have a series of pre thought shots for each office?
This is one of the biggest challenges: how to show the space? On the one hand, there is the problem of censorship. I have put forward many images that I thought best represented the space or the city or the project as a whole, but my agenda didn’t match with their self-image. So the photograph was buried. But I also censor myself. I am engaged in a kind of emotional tug of war to be a photojournalist and reveal life on one hand and to be an architectural photographer who cleans up the space and shows it at its best according to the conventions of architectural imagery on the other. I guess this is because my motivations are mixed. I’m really invested in this story – it has taken on it’s own life and become an obsession. You should interview my wife if you don’t believe me. But it has also proved a great way to expand by client base. So the last thing I want to do is shoot myself in the foot by publishing irresponsibly. I think this shows each time I publish, the images are kind of rough kind of clean, theres a mixture of beauty and ugliness in each story.
What role do people play in the shots, how important was it for you to capture the life within these offices rather than the architecture and the space itself?
Both matter, and it’s not a zero sum game. Early on I thought it might be fun to produce gloomy empty early morning shots in the Nordic series. That was shot down because of the corporate PR machine I’ve been alluding to. But perhaps they were right. If the office is normally a buzzing hive of activity, what is the purpose of showing it dead? Maybe that could be a separate series, or exhibition: After Hours, or something like that. This story is about the atmosphere of spaces. That means the built environment and everything taking place within it. The only thing I try to avoid is scripting or choreographing what people do. It’s one of my pet hates: oh look, another blurry figure passing through a room. A well dressed couple woodenly sitting on the edge of their seats pretending to converse, etc.
What other offices and countries do you have in mind? Are the United States, South America countries you are interested in photographing?
Interesting that you should ask. As a matter of fact that is the next stage after the final shoots in Europe (Rotterdam & Berlin). We will do a US tour during the last 3 months of 2018 including NY, CHI, LA followed by a slightly longer tour in Latin America in 2019. Readers should get in touch if they want to be a part of that.
What is the final objective of this series? Do you see the possibility for a publication?
More than that, the Architecture Studios Atlas is happening. It is a reality that will be published in separate volumes by Swedish publisher A+O, starting with Europe in 2018.