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Workplace Aesthetics Might Not Be Enough


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Pale light could be seen coming from gaps in a large, low building. A simple clarity had been disturbed. True size was hard to read. The function of this place was hard to define. The surrounding landscape held no markers or signs. Nothing stood close by in order to provide scale. The mass refused to reveal itself. Cuts in the facade were troubling and extreme. Great tears and raw holes had broken through a thin metal skin, yet the basic framework remained. A view through the cuts revealed people moving inside, slow and withdrawn, methodically dismantling. There were neat piles of machine parts, stacks of piping and conduit, barrels of coolant, lubricant and machine oil, piles of metal, concrete and wood. People stuck to the edges, leaving a clear space in the center, where low seating had been improvised along with large tables and slung lighting. Surrounding this area, large screens had been constructed from partition walls ripped from their original place. Upon these screens many hands had created a woven mass of text, notation, plans and calculations.

For the people in this building, there was some regret that an early fire had been fueled by instruction manuals, technical journals, machine-part plans and employment records. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and had kept the cold at bay, but if they had kept these documents they would have been able to remember a great deal more. They used to work in teams, but now they start each day in large, disorganized groups. This was never very effective for long, as shabby masses ended up following each other around in the gloom. It only takes a few minutes before people peel away and wander off to work alone. Each vie to win space on a screen by creating their own deconstruction of previous working methods, where they can silently inscribe their work. An accounting for everything, punctuated by the sound of improvised tools tearing at the few remaining interior walls and stubborn structures that once held large machines and production lines.

Not many people were actually active, and those who were sometimes just stopped what they were doing. Many just stood around all day, while others laid on the floor or slumped in the shadows. There was no sense of organization here. Some people held onto pieces of old machinery that they used to slowly tear at the walls. Some were more effective than others. Some repeatedly bent and folded the torn metal edges over and over again in an attempt to pull it free, hacking new gaps into the exterior. The jagged folds cut into skin.

There were no clear aims at the outset, merely a desire to return and occupy a former place of work. In the old days, everyone had been well looked after. The collective memory and potential of this place was appealing. Yet no one could remember exactly why they had returned, or when they stopped leaving at night. At first they just hung around and talked about why things had gone so wrong. After a while they started to draw out neat new openings on the walls, which would make fine new windows once the factory reopened. The dismantling of machinery only came once people had stopped going home in the evenings. Anyone passing by would hear the sound of work late into the night, which would make them happy to think that things were being made, that jobs had returned. The sound of action was calming and reassuring.

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