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By Andrew Laing, PhD, Director, DEGW
Want to see a city that expresses the thrumming energy of modern American industrial capitalism at its apogee? See Buffalo, 1905. I went there last weekend and was astonished by the legacy of the urban architecture that tells an impressive story about the role of architecture in re-imagining space and the city for a super dynamic economy.

Start with Darwin D. Martin, the organizational genius who rose from selling soap on the streets of New York to become a senior executive of the Larkin Company. The Larkin Company was in effect a kind of Google or Amazon of its day: using modern systems of information (card indexes of customers) to optimize commercial relationships with consumers distributed widely across the continent linked together by mail order. Darwin Martin then found an architectural genius in the form of Frank Lloyd Wright who helped him re-imagine how the functional design of the workplace for the Administration Building of the Larkin Company could take their business to new level of effectiveness. Tragically, the Larkin Building was demolished in 1940.

But Darwin Martin also was inspired to use Frank Lloyd Wright to design a complex of residential buildings for his extended family and servants: The Martin House. Here Frank Lloyd Wright was able to explore the creation of a series of linked building in an urban landscape. A lengthy process of restoration and reconstruction now reveals the amazing ideas for domestic living that Wright created for the Martins. Flowing rooms and connected indoor/outdoor spaces open up to the landscape. A brilliant visitor center designed by Toshiko Mori is placed next to the house.

Just as the Larkin Building revolutionized how the design of office space could accelerate the flow of ideas and information, the Martin House suggests how living might be reinvented in the early twentieth century. Both of these commissions for Frank Lloyd Wright remind us that in our own age of fast growing global cities we need bold, daring and radical collaborations between clients, users, and architects to re-imagine our urban ways of living and working.


This is part 3 of a three part post called The City is the Office, by Andrew Laing, Director of Strategy for DEGW North America. Click here to read Part 1 and Part 2.

At both the Worktech and Festival of Ideas for the New City conferences, the new city of Songdo in South Korea was cited as an example of the smart city movement.  New kinds of technology are enabling more intelligent forms of urbanism. Yet it seems odd to me that given the sophistication of the technology, the physical architecture looks remarkably familiar.

Why would the provision of amazing new technological infrastructure not transform the architecture of the city? Is the idea that technology is a kind of invisible utility that merely services a conventional  architecture? Like some new kind of sewer system?
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This is Part 2 of a three part post called The City is the Office, by Andrew Laing, Director of Strategy at DEGW North America. Click here to read Part 1.

The shift to using mobile devices and geolocation services to obtain workspace ‘on demand’ reinforces the idea that even in this world of exploding technology, place matters more than ever. Now we have more choice!

At the WorkTech conference Larry Prusak  made a forceful argument for the value of place and space for the creation and sustenance of knowledge in communities. He believes that:

  • Space is critical for knowledge.
  • Clusters of talent and creativity are built around physically networked places (look no further than Silicon Valley).
  • There is no substitute for being there (in person).

Others argued that new technology is in fact creating rich contexts for collaboration. Nicole Yankelovich CEO of WonderBuilders showed us 3D virtual worlds in which affinity style brainstorming can be achieved virtually. The primary workspace becomes virtual.
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By Andrew Laing

Two recent conferences highlighted the exploding world of the networked city: Festival of Ideas for the New City, where DEGW Founder, Frank Duffy presented the Reconfigured City, and WorkTech. Both reinforced the idea of ‘the office is the city’. Technology is everywhere, enabling an exciting if contradictory perspective on places, community, and knowledge.

At the Festival of Ideas for the New City, much of the talk was about:

  • The world of connecting things- The huge number of built in sensors open our cities and activities to observation and control. They may have the capacity to open up information and ideas for public participation. (Adam Greenfield)
  • Peer to peer communities- Through bypassing the conventional supply chain (Robin Chase), these same networks of people, devices, things and places allow users to create collaborative models of consumption.

This is one way in which Frank Duffy’s challenge to end the tyranny of supply is now happening. We can obtain space when and where we need it through geolocation software.
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