AccueilThe Office as an interior (1880-1960)

The Office as an interior (1880-1960)

Das Büro als Interieur (1880-1960)

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Publié le mercredi 24 avril 2013 par Élodie Faath


Au cours de la« deuxième révolution industrielle » augmente considérablement l’activité dans le tertiaire et se développent les services administratifs dans le secteur industriel et public. L’employé devient ainsi la figure sociale de la modernité urbaine, qui témoigne aussi du rôle croissant de la femme dans ce secteur professionnel. Le colloque Office as an Interior (1880-1960) aborde l’essor du travail administratif entre 1880 et 1960 à travers l’analyse de l’émergence d´un espace nouveau, le bureau, qui par ses arrangements contribue à la diffusion de nouvelles formes de sociabilité et réalise des nouveaux modes d’organisation du travail. Ce colloque voudrait préciser l’analyse des rapports entre espace physique et espace social, entre matérialité et pratiques, entre stratégies et tactiques, entre structures et individus, tels qui ont été explorés par la récente sociologie de l’espace.


Symposium organised by the Institute for Popular Cultures of the Zurich University and the Swiss Federal Archives, on 17-18th October 2013 in Bern


The so-called “second industrial revolution” meant a significant growth in the tertiary sector (banks, insurance companies, etc.); at the same time new administrative bodies arose both in industry and at agencies and public authorities. This went hand in hand with a massive increase in the numbers of employees. The employee became the socio-professional figure of the urban modernity, whereas the professional woman became increasingly important.

Studies on the socio-professional figure of the employee have shed light on this intensification of administrative work, as have papers on the standardisation and mechanisation of administrative processes. What has been studied as well is the emergence of a new architecture of administration in urban areas. This symposium would now like to analyse the intensification of administrative work between 1880 and 1960 by focussing on the formation of a new space, the office. Setting up offices configures and brings about new forms of social behaviour and the organisation of work.

Between the last decades of the 19th and the first decades of the 20th century, the administrative workspace was fundamentally transformed. In the course of the 19th century “for the first time the living-space became distinguished from the place of work.” The living-space “constituted itself as the interior,” of which the private citizen required “that it should maintain him in his illusions” (Benjamin 1969/1935). While in the last decades of the century domestic space was still often used for administrative work, a specialised room began to develop at the beginning of the 20th century. The office became the universe of both public and private enterprise administration. At the same time, “the real centre of gravity of the sphere of existence was displaced to the office.” (Benjamin 1969/1935)

At this time, Taylorism hits (Taylor 1911) administrative work. The ideology of scientific management (Schulze 1913, Leffingwell 1918 and 1925, Galloway 1918, etc.) expanded to Europe, claiming to redesign space according to functional principles of rationalisation. However, the everyday practices of administrative work are at odds with the discourses of rationalisation, so that there is true simultaneity of non-simultaneousness: traditional offices exist next to offices decorated in a modern style, and small and medium-sized companies and public administrative bodies were still grappling with the postulates of rational office set-up in 1960.

The office appears as an apparatus, as a “thoroughly heterogeneous ensemble consisting of discourses, institutions, architectural forms, regulatory decisions, laws, administrative measures, scientific statements, philosophical, moral or philanthropic propositions, in short: the said as much as the unsaid.” (Foucault 1977) Employees and secretaries are subject to but not at the mercy of this strategic function of the office. The office is a negotiating space. It defines itself within an ideological and political area of tension. It reflects the economic will to rationalise work just as it does the demands of employees’ associations. Attempts at state regulation and the technological requirements of administrative work intersect within it. It is testimony to a standardisation of productive tasks, but also to the need for individual design of the daily work environment. It stands as a place that responds to the technical requirements of the design and implements architectural decisions that explore the new lifestyles of the modern era.

The symposium addresses the development of the office in order to analyse the interdependency between physical and social space, materiality and practices, strategies and tactics, structures and individuals. Likewise, it is intended to approach the office from a historical perspective, as attention is directed towards the significance of the office for structuring and transforming the sociocultural situation from the turn of the last century through the end of the 1950’s.

The objective of the workshop is to address those figures, objects, practices, organisational forms and formats for knowledge that have given birth to and characterise the office as a space, and to analyse the interaction between the multiple factors which shape the set-up of offices: the material arrangements (light design, heat regulation, air quality, arrangement of furniture and machines, the movement of goods and people, etc.) as well as the immaterial apparatus (organisation of work, establishment of hierarchies, creating intimacy, regulations, etc.).

The symposium is intended for researchers of various disciplines, from art history to the history of (interior) architecture, literary criticism to the history of work and technology history.

Submission guidelines

Curriculum vitae and abstract (up to 2,500 characters) must be submitted

by 31 May 2013.

Languages in the workshop: English, German, French. 


  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Hengartner
  • Dr. Gianenrico Bernasconi
  • Dr. Stefan Nellen


Scientific committee

  • Dr. Gianenrico Bernasconi, SNF Projekt  Raumkulturen des Büros 1880-1930, Universität Zürich, Institut für Populäre Kulturen, Affolternstrasse 56, CH-8050 Zürich
  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Hengartner, Directeur, Institut für Populäre Kulturen, Universität Zürich, Affolternstrasse 56, CH-8050 Zürich
  • Dr. Stefan Nellen, Chef de service, Département fédérale de l`Intérieur, Archives fédérales suisses AFS, Service des analyses historiques SAH, Archivstrasse 24, CH-3003 Bern


  • Berne, Confédération Suisse


  • vendredi 31 mai 2013


  • bureau, travail, tertiaire, employé, sociabilité, organisation du travail, management


  • Stefan Nellen
    courriel : stefan [dot] nellen [at] bar [dot] admin [dot] ch
  • Gianenrico Bernasconi
    courriel : gianenrico [dot] bernasconi [at] unine [dot] ch

Source de l'information

  • Gianenrico Bernasconi
    courriel : gianenrico [dot] bernasconi [at] unine [dot] ch

Pour citer cette annonce

« The Office as an interior (1880-1960) », Appel à contribution, Calenda, Publié le mercredi 24 avril 2013,

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