Architecture critic and broadcaster Tom Dyckhoff is perhaps best known as presenter of The Great Interior Design Challenge, The Culture Show, I Love Carbuncles and Saving Britain’s Past. Tom recently published ‘The Age of Spectacle’, an examination of how twenty-first century cities work, and a manifesto for a radically new kind of urbanism. In the book, Tom argues that cities can thrive in the age of spectacle – but only if they engage us not just with dazzling structures, but by responding to the needs of the people who inhabit them.
The launch party for The Age of Spectacle was held at Fora Central Street. After the event we caught up with Tom for a quick conversation about buildings inside and out…
If you could pick an iconic London building to work in, which would it be and why?
I wouldn’t mind a personal pod in the London Eye. The view would always change every time I looked up from my computer. They would have to install a balcony, though, I’d need fresh air. And blinds. And a loo.
What makes a building iconic?
Its visual appeal, first and foremost. The culture of iconic architecture is borne on the rise of visual culture across the world, certainly since the 1960s, and even more so since the birth of the internet. These days, buildings have to be designed that are not only experienced in reality, but in virtual reality. Indeed, thanks to mass communication, today, buildings are mostly experienced through the media, from Snapchat to Instagram.
What are your your frustrations with workspaces, and what do you think workspaces need to have in order to inspire?
I made a TV series a few years ago called The Secret Life of Buildings, which used research in neuroscience to understand the impact architecture has on our brains. One programme looked at workspaces. But right across the series, we found that if you give the users of buildings more control over how they are designed and made and used, they are happier and more productive. It is a lesson that has stayed with me. In one six-month study we did, we found that even if you gave office workers control over whether they want a plant on their desk, and where to put it, they were happier. I think the trends for hotdesking and so on can be good in theory – giving people choice over where they sit and what kind of space they want to be in. But it is the often mean-minded, utilitarian ways in which much workplace culture imposes them that’s the problem. It often becomes about getting rid of costly space by packing people in. Instead of a culture of cooperation you get a culture of competition. Who wants to fight for space as soon as you clock on?
If you were given an empty office space at Fora, what would you do to make it feel like your own?
Bring in a mountain of books, a forest of plants, and a chaise long piled with cushions. I like writing lying down. Plus a good view. Can I have a window please? I easily doze off without natural light.
Have you seen any notable trends in work spaces?
Well, we’ve gone from cellular space, to open-plan to table football in every office to, currently, an understanding that what a good workspace really requires is a bit of everything. Give people options. Some days I might want to sit in a small room quietly. On others, I might want to take a walk and get a bit of headspace.
What is your own work space like? Where did you write The Age of Spectacle?
I have no workspace at the moment, as what was once my study at home has become a nursery. And I can’t afford to buy desk space right now – particularly as I never know from one week to the next what exactly I’ll be doing. So I feel very rootless, which is very unnerving. You’ll find me wandering the libraries of London hunting for a good Wi-Fi signal. I wrote much of the book in the amazing public spaces of the Royal Festival Hall – to this day one of the few places in London where you can camp out all day, without having to buy a cup of coffee, and nobody will move you on. My neighbours are anyone from people who have no other place to go, to knitting groups to the brilliant street dancers who practise most days on the ground floor. I love it.