The research project “Architecture of Cybernetics of Organization” (ACO) compiled the first comprehensive documentation of the “architectural” works of German management consultants Wolfgang and Eberhard Schnelle and its trans-disciplinary team (Quickborner Team, QT) namely: the Bürolandschaften, from the late 1950s until mid 1970s. In doing so it explored this very unique non-architects design-practice: It registerd its specific design-method “cybernetics of organization” and it analysed the design-method’s direct result: the Bürolandschaften [office landscapes].
In the late 1950s the Hamburg-based Brothers Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle and their team of architects, designers, computer- and information-scientists, mathematicians and philosophers developed a specific design-method which they referred to as “Organisationskybernetik” [cybernetics of organization]. As a direct result of their design- method they invented “Bürolandschaft” [office-landscape]. Besides that, they would run their own publishing house “Verlag Schnelle”, where they specialized in publishing texts and books on information theory, information aesthetics, the international cybernetic discourse at large, as well as their own designs of office-landscapes. Being highly successful, they would soon expand their consultancy activities and design work to the rest of Europe, then to the USA and even to South America. Later on, from the mid-1970s onwards, the two brothers would apply their design-method even on a broader and more abstract scale, organizing – amongst others – the German bureaucracy at large.
CYBERNETIC DESIGN METHOD
The specific design-method “Organisationskybernetik” [cybernetics of organization] had been developed since 1956. The English cybernetician and management consultant Stafford Beer, who later became famous in conceiving “cybersyn”, though initially coined the term “cybernetics of organization” – a governing model for a real-time computer controlled, planned economy in Chile under president Allende in 1970. For Beer, as for the Schnelle's, cybernetics was “the science of effective organization.” Similar to Stafford Beer, Brothers Schnelle and their team claimed “cybernetics of organization” to be a comprehensive method to organize, plan and design organizations.
In the case of Brothers Schnelle this was office space. The ambition of the team was in fact twofold: (1) to create an office space as a flexible and adaptable instrument for corporations – to conceptualize space that is easy to arrange to new formations of work-processes, and (2) to design a workplace as an all-embracing environment for living – an environment that, due to an anticipated automation of administrative work would dismiss people into an everlasting spare-time.
A NEW FORM OF GOVERNANCE
The planning-method explicitly referred to cybernetics, which in the late 1950s marked a new model for governance. A model that could be applied to “living creatures, as well to machines and apparatuses, to economic as well as to psychic processes, to sociological as well as to aesthetic phenomena.” Cybernetics, as well as the Schnelle’s planning-method, presupposes the compatibility of information-exchange of human beings and machines through digitality. In doing so the human is less understood as a machine. Rather he and she, like machines and automats are modelled as autonomous, self-directing individuals, who are understood as coded and thus as being able to be re-programmed.
However, the cybernetic model of control represented and used in the design-method cannot be reduced to a central (supervising) power, since every single decision-making process, every instance of cybernetics, is already spread out as a network. In other words: Every function within the organisation is not being represented by one worker only, but by a team of “experts” and its automats. The former hierarchical chain of command is being re-organised by the Quickborner Team’s intervention to become a network. This non-hierarchical production process is of course still precise and clearly assigned, but due to the formation of the organization as a network, the power is no longer traceable to an origin.
SELF ORGANIZATION & CONTROL SOCIETY
The project argued that with their planning method, Quickborner Team broached the construction of a new, self-organized society in post-war Germany, that can be understood as an architectonic and spatial prototype of a “society of control” as described by French Philosopher Gilles Deleuze. As an enterprise of interrelated and interdependent subjects acting autonomously, the organization evolves into a highly flexible and efficient network that becomes able to constantly align itself to new goals. Hence, the planning team enforced a popular tendency that aimed to shape society as a whole and to function differently to its predecessors: non-hierarchically, consensus-based decision making, working in teams of specialists, positive feedback-rounds, valuation of all women and men working within an organization.
Bürolandschaft marked (1) an enclosed space of the organization. It is an abstract, horizontal plane, that is preferably extensive and within its compounds accessible and barrier-free. The interior gets (2) regulated by artificial climate, acoustic and light design, and (3) moveable elements, like tables, chairs, room dividers, and plants, but also personnel and automata are ordered in various constellations on the plane. A catalogue of precise requirements controls the visually loose arrangement and configuration of interior space. The furniture is arranged according to the workgroups. Similar to set theory, it is positioned in space. Entrance and circulation routes are marked by plants and never run through a working unit. Special emphasis is placed on “intimate” working conditions of every single workplace: through lighting, orientation of every single table, etc.
Thus, the loose arrangement of the cybernetically organized workspace resembles a “chaotic, extensive landscape of subjective places” – as Eberhard and Wolfgang Schnelle would call it. Here is a description of the first-ever office landscape Buch und Ton(1960/61):
“A transparent and generous effect is produced through the furniture design. The irregular rhythm of the arrangement and its chromacity structure the perception of the space: it is only the close-up range that is perceived, so that each workplace produces a subjective place that creates intimacy. Moveable room dividers and plants provide visual protection, as well – they delineate circulation routes and work group areas.”
The paradoxical phrase irregular rhythms – a rhythm which knows no symmetry, follows no regular motion, no regular repetition, but is instead irregular and non-cyclical – accurately articulates the ambition of the planners, and gets to the point. To put it in positive terms: it intends the fusion of two divergent movements, as Roland Barthes would contrast: (1) a self-rhythmical mode of life – a mode of life that does not follow any kind of organization and in which no institutionalized, reified and objectified authority of mediation exists between the individual and the group, with (2) a confined – both spatially and societal – life that accompanies the imminent emergence of a bureaucratic apparatus.
The research was funded by Austrian Science Fund (FWF):
Stand-alone Project P22447-G21
Private Archive Andreas Rumpfhuber includes
ca. 1000 dia positives
all publications (books and others) by Verlag Schnelle
In other words: The designing of office-landscape, the rhetoric and the discourses around it have been attempts to converge a kind of anarchistic, self-determined way of living with that of a highly regulated and managed organizational-life. The aim of the design was that every single working individual in the cybernetically optimized administration space realizes himself or herself not as crowded cattle (Marx), but as the autonomous subject, which is on equal terms with everyone else. It is a working subject that needs to come across a familiar atmosphere, being on the same hierarchical level and in spatial proximity to the boss. Although the office landscape looks chaotic and irregular, a strict, meticulous, virtually totalitarian order operates within the arrangements. An order that is bound to a conceptually autonomous but networked, thus inter-dependent individual through strict and rational protocols and work-procedures.
 Cf. Claus Pias: Zeit der Kybernetik. Eine Einstimmung. In: ibid. (ed.): Cybernetics – Kybernetik, The Macy Conferences 1946-1953, Diaphanes Verlag, Berlin-Zürich, 2004, pp. 9-41, here: p. 14, my translation into English
 Cf. Gilles Deleuze: Postscript on the Societies of Control, OCTOBER 59, Winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 3-7 (French Original: May 1990)
 Brochure “Beschreibung der Bürolandschaft des Hauses Bertelsmann in der Firma Kommisionshaus Buch und Ton”, keine weiteren Angeben erhältlich, Archiv of Quickborner Team, Hamburg. My translation and emphasis.
 See: Roland Barthes: Wie zusammenleben, Frankfurt/Main, Suhrkamp, first edition, 2007, p. 90