Lars Müller Publishers, 2017
Paperback, 288 pages
In my first job in an architecture office right out of school, one of the first things I was given – before I even had my own desk – was an employee handbook. A photocopied, spiral-bound booklet, the handbook delved into the details of what was expected from me as an employee: in terms of attire, sick days, performance, smoking (none, a new rule at the time), timesheets, billing, CAD standards, and so on and so on. The manual increased over time as the 50-person firm I joined more than doubled in a short amount of time. Over that time it functioned as a means of indoctrinating new employees and providing old employees with updates. I never imagined it to be more than a dry guide to office life,
that every office has. In the hands of the Storefront for Art and Architecture and others office manuals like this one offer fascinating glimpses into the architecture profession in the United States.
[Spread from OfficeUS Manual showing office plans]
OfficeUS Manual is the third book produced out of Storefront's curation (with MIT and Praxis) of the US Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale. That year, Rem Koolhaas was director of the Biennale, and he unified the normally divergent national pavilions under one theme: "Absorbing Modernity 1914-2014." Storefront focused on the imperial ambitions of US firms, tracing 100 years of American firms building overseas. I'm not familiar with OfficeUS Agenda, the exhibition's catalog, but OfficeUS Atlas, which I reviewed in 2015, is a hefty book with archived publications and profiles of the many firms working overseas. OfficeUS Manual delves into the inner-workings of some of these firms through that often overlooked document, the employee handbook.
[Spread from OfficeUS Manual showing CAD conventions]
Compared to Atlas, Manual is much more fun – at least for architects. Sure, the various clippings from the office manuals of Bertrand Goldberg, Richard Neutra, Venturi and Rauch, Höweler + Yoon,
I could go on with the examples, but it should be clear that half the fun is relating the selected quotes to one's own experiences, be it from a similar time or many decades ago. But with only 288 pages and much of the real estate taken up by the new essays and stills from a specially commissioned film (Amie Siegel's The Architects) that peeks into architecture offices, I can only empathize with the work of the editors. Wading through thousands of pages in manuals to find the most incisive, controversial, and often humorous lines to put into the book – that is not a task I would wish on my enemies. So kudos to the editors for their work and finding a way to present and make sense of an important but overlooked element of architectural production.