Hans Hollein's Mobile Office  UP022

In 1969, decades before winning the Pritzker Prize, Austrian architect Hans Hollein built an inflatable mobile office that could be carried around and set up practically anywhere. Prophesying what would later become a laptop, the project—part pneumatic architecture, part performance, part video art—involved Hollein landing a small airplane on a runway and setting up the portable, plastic space, in which he could be seen talking on the telephone and typing.

At the time, Hans Hollein's 'Mobile Office' explored the social and architectural possibilities brought on by the advancement of new technologies. But it also forecasted their implications for the new worker and the way labor would be effected by an increasingly automated environment. In showing the potential for work to be exported virtually anywhere, Hollein's performance anticipated the shifting promises offered by modernity from one of spare time and leisure, to a life full of work. In the following essay by Andreas Rumpfhuber, the author explores Hollein's paradigmatic project in order the understand these workplace disruptions as they relate to the practice of architecture, in particular.

Hans Hollein’s “Mobile Office” has been catalogued as an installation consisting of PVC-foil, a vacuum cleaner, a typewriter (Hermes Baby), a telephone, a drawing board, a pencil, rubber, and thumbtacks. In fact, Mobile Office is a two-minutes-and-twenty-seconds-long performance exclusively produced for television. It paradigmatically shows the contours of an emerging shift in architectural practice that must be read in parallel to the radical transformations in the organization of labour in the postwar years. It is exactly then that the Fordist business organization in Western industrialized countries, with its hierarchic structures, becomes fragile in favor of a new workers’ society.

To read Mobile Office as a paradigmatic project mirroring aspects of this very transformation allows us to understand alterations, shifts, and disruptions in the practice of architecture. It allows us to identify and analyze the contours of a potentially new focus in the work of an architect. It helps us to trace the implications for the work and the product of architects at the very moment of the alleged shift in Western industrialized societies from a Taylorist organization of production towards today’s dominant form, the post-Fordist production of immaterial labour. Thus, the analysis of Mobile Office makes exemplarily visible the tendency towards today’s generalized and ‘proletarized’ form of creative entrepreneurs and their production.