Architectural Consulting in the Knowledge Economy: DEGW and the ORBIT Report

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Abstract

In 1983, the workplace strategy and architecture practice, DEGW, published a highly influential study into the impact of information technology on the future of office buildings and the workplace, titled ‘Office Research: Buildings and Information Technology’ (ORBIT). Representing the first intensive research study into the organisational, technical and architectural demands of office work in Britain, the report concluded that the information age was rendering companies increasingly complex in their organisational and technological requirements, and ultimately more dependent on buildings. Although ostensibly a study about technological change, this paper argues that ORBIT should be viewed as a critical document in the formulation of the relationship between architects, suppliers, users and the state in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Sponsored by industry giants from real estate firms, construction and office supply companies, and government regulators, ORBIT brought together industries that were previously uneasy partners in post-war Britain but were being realigned under the Thatcher government's push for service sector innovation to revive the deindustrialised economy. Examined as both a product and instrument of neoliberal economic policy, the paper argues that the authors, sponsors and subjects of the research were linked by the demands of productivity, competition and performance both in and of the workplace. Within this analysis, DEGW's development of ‘architectural consultancy’, as a service that is distinct from architectural design, is interpreted as mode of repositioning the architect within the knowledge economy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1020-1044
JournalThe Journal of Architecture
Volume24
Issue number7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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