PIER VITTORIO AURELI in conversation with CHARLOTTE ALGIE (MArch ’16), SARAH KASPER (MArch ’16), DIMA SROUJI (MArch ’16),
The Yamsafer office is very similar to case studies I’ve been researching myself. The only difference is, of course, the location—namely, the mobility of people is very limited in Palestine, as well as within this specific company. In other economies outside of Palestine, people are relatively free to move, or are at least given that impression.
I found most interesting Faris Zaher’s argument that at Yamsafer, like everywhere in the world, people are increasingly confusing what is—and is not—work. This is a crucial, and recent, subjective transformation. Some people do not know anymore when they are and are not working. Seemingly everywhere, the difference between life and work has completely disappeared. It is a very ambiguous situation. I found it most interesting where Zaher described the outside-of-work alternative of ‘just watching Netflix’ as a very alienating activity. Well, he’s right. It is true.This is a most interesting point.
Once you realise this problem, the question is: what is the response? At the moment you don’t know when you work and when you don’t work, it is very easy to exploit people. This is a problem. Offices look more and more like houses. There is a lot of social bondage between the worker and the employee. In our office we try to have lunches together, to create a nice atmosphere. But this constant work condition results in paternalistic, almost family-like relationships, which are often very problematic. Work is no longer this impenetrable abstract activity that you do for someone you don’t know or don’t care about; work happens in domestic environments.
Another response would be the opposite from this negative situation, to say ‘I want to have a fixed job.’ My parents, for example, had fixed jobs and good wages. You have your pension and your holidays. You can get
married and have a family. The stable examples like my parents are totally horrified with the idea that I don’t know where I am going to live, or work, or have a family. They now realize that this life-work of total distribution might be permanent—not just a transition.
I think something is often forgotten in these kinds of discussions about the transformations we see in Yamsafar and many tech industries. These transformations were not top-down projects, led by the state. This way of working was introduced in the late 70s by young people who were horrified at this kind of fixed job, fixed contracts, family life.
In Europe we call this the ‘77 generation’—the year of punk, of no future, of no longer being institutionalized by society. People were trying to live life by traveling a lot, and were totally reluctant to work in a wage system. At the time, this was possible. They were coming out of the golden age of the welfare state. Things like gentrification didn’t exist, so they could make the choice to be precarious. They could risk failure, because time allowed for it.
When capitalism understood that this way of working was desirable, it was co-opted. It became what is now called “flexible work.” It became the main way in which the younger generations live and work. From my side, this kind of condition puts an enormous pressure on people. Perhaps, in the case of Yale students, this is particularly apparent. But the problem comes in when you grow and realize that this is not a transition, but rather an endless process.
What was also very interesting in the interview was his honesty. Whether we condemn or support his methods of working, I think the honesty is, across the board, incredibly helpful to understand the situation.
We don’t have that honesty. In architecture, I know for certain that there is a lot of frustration, depression and fatigue—physical and existential. Schools are just full of frustrated people, because they cannot bear this pressure. Competition is everywhere. What we do is just a way to accomplish it all under pressure, while at the same time appear as winners. For architects , as soon as you give the impression that its all too much, you are a loser. You lose the aura that you need to have in our field to get work. In this sense, I found Zaher’s interview a great invitation for us all to be more honest. I don’t think that, globally, all those who work are yet at the stage where we can organize or resist the eroding distinctions between work and non-work. I don’t think it’s possible right now. What we should all do is search for new ways of living and working that are not stressful, which don’t make life unbearable. This is a really important issue.