Simon Henley is an architect, writer researcher and teacher, combining a day job as principal of Henley Halebrown Rorrison with authoring books such as The Architecture of Parking. HHbR is currently working on two office projects, one a mixed-use masterplan in Croydon and the other for The Benyon Estate at De Beauvoir Road. He also squeezed in the time to rave about some of his pet hates
At some point in the 20th century we stopped building walls and began to clad our buildings. At first, it was Mies, it was glass, and it heralded an aesthetic. Then, it became the norm. You can clad a building with anything – stone, metal, plastic. The problem is this skinny thing has no substance, and it’s got nothing to do with the building inside that we use. The worst part is it that prompts architects to treat facades like graphic design and make patterns.
Show off! That’s it, put all your energy into the first space you see in an office. The rest of it is then bound to be disappointing. There’s nothing wrong with a bit of monumental, awe-inspiring space, but the problem is, they rarely are. Instead, they show off like the dress sense of the nouveaux riches. The contents (finishes, furniture, lighting and people) are meant to be glamorous and, perhaps, intimidating. Instead they’re usually naff.
They are ubiquitous. Somehow, it doesn’t matter what shape or size they are, or the material they are made from, they belittle the task, dull the brain and dent the self-esteem. Of course, it’s no surprise, because, however they are arranged – in rows, clusters etc – their repeated presence is a sad reminder of the office worker’s status, to be one of many. Despite all that design, the desk, to which most of us are ‘chained’, is still good for nothing. If in doubt, watch Jacques Tati’s 1958 film Mon Oncle.