Technological, political and economic transformations over the last few decades have radically changed the nature of work. Today, we can draw floor plans as easily from bed as from the office. And with the emergence of platforms such as Skwerl, the freelance economy looks like it could start to break up the centuries-old work structure of firms.
Along the way, workplace benefits disappear and job security vanishes. In fact, individuals often stop seeing themselves as workers, or distinguish between labor and leisure time. Architecture has never been a particularly receptive profession to unions—or the collectivized bodies of workers fighting for rights and fair pay (as well as other shared goals). But the more precarious our livelihoods the greater the need for solidarity.
Sofia Angelopoulou, a master student at the Master Interior Architecture: Research + Design, MIARD at the Piet Zwart Institute, a postgraduate programme that is part of the Willem de Kooning Academy at Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences. imagined how a union of freelance design workers might be fashioned. Taking a political issue as a design challenge, she developed a piece of joinery that would serve as a symbol of membership as well as help facilitate, materially, collaboration between increasingly atomized workers.
The New Union: Suggestive forms for organized labor in the freelance era
By Sofia Angelopoulou
When thinking about the future of spaces of labor and work in general, it is interesting to consider how our way of work is becoming increasingly individualized, from the fact that one can work from home and set their own timetable but that they also have to pay their own health insurance, pension scheme and cover all costs their type of work requires. Freelancing, as appealing as it appears, also entails many dangers since it cuts one off from the larger framework, the collective support system and community that traditional workspaces used to create.our way of work is becoming increasingly individualized
In this project the trade union is updated to fit the freelancers’ need for a collective physical space to meet face to face, regroup and regain the sense of community. Trade unions have historically been ways of collectivizing and generating political action for the well being of workers. They functioned as physical platforms for the exchange of knowledge, culture, political ideas and opinions and influential examples include the Soviet architects’ Social Clubs and particularly those of Ivan Leonidov.
Inspired by organized labor and the spaces it occupies as well as examples of spaces for political conversations and negotiations, such as the Polish Round Table Talks of 1989 or even the Parisian cafes of the 19th century, the typology of the table becomes the main focus as a piece of political architecture and as a mediatory object that brings two parties together. In order to avoid a predefined hierarchy that a ready-made table would imply – but to also encourage collaboration and equality – the design is based on a single piece of joinery. When combined together, the joints become a table, a chair, or a stage.The design stands both as a metaphor, a piece of political, social imaginary and as a very real object
Each new member receives a starter kit upon signing up at the union that includes one joint and an instructions manual on how to make use of it. The design itself requires union members to meet in real space and work together, since the joint cannot function on its own but requires the combination of a few of them to turn into something purposeful. It is constructed out of clear acrylic, which makes it almost invisible and puts the focus on its users instead.
The design stands both as a metaphor, a piece of political, social imaginary and as a very real object that can be used instantly and spontaneously in any space at any time.
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