Review: A Designer Reimagines Contemporary Office Space / Hyperallergic

Installation view of Jonathan Olivares’s “The Outdoor Office” (image courtesy Art Institute of Chicago)

CHICAGO — Given that most of us labor in virtual space these days and our work requires little more than a desk, a computer, and a keyboard to get done, why do we stick to such outmoded concepts as cubicles and cafeterias? A current exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, The Outdoor Office: Jonathan Olivares Design Research, imagines how the office of the future might look.

Jonathan Olivares Design Research (JODR) was founded in 2006 as a creative office focused solely on industrial design, exhibition design, and design-related research. In the Art Institute show, Olivares examines the ways the office has been portrayed in pop culture, TV, film, and art, laying out a diverse array of workplace iconography. A spiffy, if not overly neat-and-tidy, arrangement of images, this exhibition will surely open up the eyes of weary office workers whose cubicle-confined lives feel more like prison and less like an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Curated by Zoë Ryan and John H. Bryan, this is the first public viewing of Olivares’s new works-in-progress.

Olivares’s display is located behind the Modern Wing’s sleek café area. This oddly located gallery serves as the perfect space for a show that, while strong in its conception, isn’t necessarily about a finished product. If it were, I’d argue that it take over the gallery next door, where the exhibition Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects is currently on display.

The show is anchored by three large-scale, 12-by-8-foot billboards (seen at top) that present possible designs for outdoor workspaces. In one of the images, workers sit in office chairs around a long table. They are sheltered by a half-circle canopy structure. The weather appears fall- or spring-like. It must be, because otherwise the people depicted in the rendering would be wearing more than just long-sleeve shirts. In another image, a man sits on a yellow chair at a white table outdoors in a field. He is hunched over a laptop. A single screen protects him from the natural elements. If it rains on this man, well, that’s too bad for him.

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