Virtual Design Festival

"Will we work in a completely digital environment, like characters in a game?" asks Martin van der Linden

Following the popularity of his series of video blogs for VDF, Tokyo architect Martin van der Linden has created a special movie about the post-coronavirus office, in which he wonders whether physical workspaces will become entirely digital.

"Will we soon move into a digital world, in which our avatars work and communicate without having to leave the bubble of our homes?" van der Linden asked in the latest video from his popular One Minute Architecture YouTube channel.

"Is our world going to be one in which we work in a completely digital environment, like digital characters in a game?"

Van der Linden explores the impact of coronavirus on offices

Van der Linden, the founder of Tokyo-based Van Der Architects, asked the questions at the end of the video, which speculates on what permanent impact the coronavirus pandemic might have on office spaces.

"Today, with the coronavirus crisis, companies are facing new challenges of how to use their workspaces," van der Linden said.

"Working from home has, for many of us, become mandatory and we must ask ourselves: 'Do we still need an office as a physical workspace?'"

In traditional offices "the hierarchy of the company can be read in the layout "

Throughout the video, van der Linden analyses different office environments in terms of whether the tools and spaces employees use are physical or digital.

He starts off by looking at traditional offices, before the mass adoption of digital technologies, which he describes as "analogue-analogue" because neither the spaces people worked in nor the tools they used were digital.

"The analogue-analogue office is an office in which you can literally touch everything," he said. "The business is physically there, from the desk where the employees sit, to the paper in the filing cabinets that proves the very existence of the analogue corporation."

"The hierarchy of the company can be read in the layout of the office," he continued. "The newly hired staff sit close to the door, the managers sit at the end of the row, close to the window. The aim is to move up the corporate ladder towards becoming a senior executive."

"The digital naturally expresses itself in a more flexible office layout"

According to van der Linden, the onset of digital technologies created more open, flexible spaces.

"Digital companies grow fast and with their hectic expansion comes an often flatter organisation," he said. "It is well known that Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook sits on a normal desk amongst his employees in the open office."

However, while digital technologies changed the spaces in which people work, they did not diminish the importance of physical spaces in our work culture, van der Linden said.

"The digital naturally expresses itself in a more flexible office layout," he explained. "But there is still a heavy emphasis on the physicality of the office, as the social factor of not only bringing people together in one place but also as a centre for learning and personal growth."

Coronavirus has turned the workplace "upside-down"

With the coronavirus pandemic forcing many people to work remotely, there is now much more emphasis on digital spaces, according to van der Linden. He describes the transformation as workplaces moving from being "analogue-digital" to "digital-analogue".

"Yes, the home is still a physical entity, but the digital and analogue enablers are upside-down," he said.

"Now, the emphasis is on the digital. The communication tools and team-sharing software that has already been used in the analogue-digital space is now the main tool. When you speak to a colleague, you do it through the digital, not in person anymore."

"We spend more and more of our time in the digital," he added.

Post-coronavirus office spaces

In recent weeks, many architects and designers have put forward proposals for how buildings and infrastructure can be adapted to allow people to safely return to the office.

Weston Williamson + Partners recently outlined plans for a social-distancing workplace, while design studio PriestmanGoode has proposed expanding bike storage on trains to make it easier for commuters to social distance.

But in the video, van der Linder suggested we might end up embracing an entirely digital future if the virus cannot be eradicated.

"So far, the creative solutions that are being brought forward are all focussing on trying to reverse the digital-analogue back to the analogue-digital," he said.

"It might well be, with the easing of restrictions, that in August we are back to the same situation as we were in March this year. But what shall we do if we can't find a vaccine against Covid-19?"

One Minute Architecture

Van der Linden was one of the earliest Virtual Design Festival collaborators, teaming up with us to present a selection of eight of his best short architecture movies.

Many of the videos explore the architecture of Tokyo, where van der Linden is based. "Even after 28 years, I found Tokyo endlessly fascinating, and I enjoy making videos of its architecture, and its rather mysterious urbanity," he said in a specially created video introducing the collaboration.

About Virtual Design Festival

Virtual Design Festival, the world's first digital design festival, runs from 15 April to 30 June 2020 and is sponsored by German bathroom and kitchen manufacturer Grohe.

Hosting a rolling programme of online talks, lectures, movies, product launches and more, VDF is a platform that will bring the architecture and design world together to celebrate the culture and commerce of our industry, and explore how it can adapt and respond to the extraordinary circumstances caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Find out more here or email [email protected] for details or to join our mailing list.