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« Big Mother » Philippe Trétiack’s Quid

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Architect and urban planner by training, Philippe Trétiack is a journalist and writer. He has been a reporter for thirty years and collaborates with several magazines, including Vanity Fair, ELLE Décoration and Air France Magazine… As an author, he has published some twenty books including Faut-il pendre les architectes ? (Seuil, 2001), De notre envoyé spécial (Editions de l’Olivier, 2015), and L’Architecture à toute vitesse (Seuil, 2016). In AA’s pages, Philippe Trétiack decodes, with a certain sense of humour, the architectural jargon in the Quid ? column. In AA 433, he dives into “Big Mother”.

The frenzied forced-marched tourism which eliminates all differences between our cities, dooming them to be merely a clutter of souvenir shops and ziggurats of Airbnb, is now nibbling away at the most secluded forms of architecture. While exasperated crowds revolt in Venice or Barcelona against the onslaught of bermuda-clad cruise passengers, our talented creative people are giving in to the current mania by turning the entrances to their office buildings into “hotel lobbies”. The same armchairs lounge about, the same light fittings swing, the same atmosphere of patient idleness reigns supreme. Whether it is a law practice or the headquarters of an investment bank, the design is the same: standardised casual chic. Exit all the symbols that help an average person tell the differnece between an insurance company and a Hilton apart. Now, everything looks the same and those who shunned the international style with its brushed aluminium curtain walls are now accepting its offspring, a boudoir in beige and grey hues with soft carpets. The removal of any sign of violence in the law courts designed by Renzo Piano at Porte de Clichy already heralded this slip into benign neutrality.
It is said that benevolence is the new panacea of management. As such, it is important not to shock and to convert places where power was once wielded into soothing cocoons. When employees want to feel ‘at home’ in the workplace, managers want to feel like they are ‘at a hotel’. It is true that recently, an employee suffered a heart attack in his hotel room while on a business trip after having sex with a woman and a court of law ruled that this constitutes a workplace accident. Under these conditions, the hotel business has its good sides, but this wave is worrying for the foam it trails. With its vintage furniture, its zen relaxation rooms, its areas devoted to rest and lying around intended to be ‘inspiring’, the buzzword that will shortly blow up like a balloon swollen with the miasma of room service, the dictatorship of Big Brother is giving way to the new coercion of Big Mother. It won’t be surprising that in these corporate anti-chambers, in which the trend is cool coma, wriggling employees will give each other non-stop hugs, overjoyed to be part of these companies where the employee, the eternal teenager, ‘plays at work’. Really? Either we are taken for idiots, or for clones.

Find Philippe Trétiack’s Quid in AA 433 – Social housing, a French exceptionalism? – available in our online store.

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