I have long felt that the purpose, or value, of the high rise is not in its body or top, but in its base. It is here that that the social compression of the building takes place, where the taxis, trains, cars, sidewalks and elevators throw everybody in the building into a common space with a face of connection to the rest of the city.
After 9/11, all of this potential was lost. Anxiety about security effectively shut off these potentially great communal spaces from any but those who had business in the building. Increasingly void of activity as their service and retail markets were squeezed to tenants only, the great social life of buildings died.
Now, as the purpose for the office is under challenge, as well, it seems appropriate to reconsider the base of the urban building. Some of the potential is reflected in this story about the “Void Decks” of Singapore’s high rise residences. Government-built towers all have an empty floor at the base of the building where the building’s carefully maintained social mix is activated for everything from “collective idling” and social mixing to weddings, fitness regimes, day care, pantries and even funerals.
As work becomes more mobile and ad hoc, and as the conventional program of the office becomes irrelevant, the concept of a “void deck” in the urban office high rise is provocative. Perhaps not entirely unprogrammed, but certainly accessible by the public, these spaces could become highly effective centers supporting the social and working needs of the “work swarms” evolving as a new organizational model for business.