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29 Nov 2018

Working in a bubble: Hans Hollein’s mobile vision

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The Design Museum’s Home Futures exhibition offers a wonderful overview of 1960s and 70s attempts to predict and design our future living spaces. It's rather like watching old episodes of Tomorrow’s World online with a glass of wine to hand on a Friday night (just us, then? OK.)

It is, as the name suggests, mainly concerned with domestic matters, but there is one brilliant exhibit dedicated to the maverick, Pritzker Prize-winning Austrian architect Hans Hollein and his attempt to create a new mobile office. A new mobile office made out of a see-through PVC plastic bubble.

Hollein’s vision was of a post-Ford landscape where our daily working lives would increasingly collapse into our leisure time, with new technologies allowing us to escape the shackles of deadening deskbound nine-to-five routine.

He was, of course, absolutely bang on. Combining that 60s love of all things plastic with a retro-futurist vision of the city, his 1969 work the Mobile Office was a Dadaesque happening, shown off on Austria’s national television network.

The architect sat in the plastic portable space, chatting on a telephone and clattering away on his Hermes Baby typewriter. This truly was the future, one where we would all be free to create in our own space and time, away from big bad corporations and malfunctioning transport systems.

Like Warhol, Hollein was something of a genre-hopper (an approach he dubbed “everythingising”) and it was his love of conceptual and performance art, of the spectacle, as much as any deep critical theorising, that ultimately lay behind his creation.

But there was a serious aspect to all of this, an indicator that our new wireless society could have major ramifications for our everyday environments, even that a mobile (read digital) world could lead to a stifling, domineering blanket approach towards production and creativity.

Again, he was absolutely right. But wouldn’t you just love to set up your own big plastic bubble in the middle of a crowded high street and answer a couple of emails or give the accounts department a call?

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