Aaron Betsky reviews “The Office of Good Intentions: Human(s) Work,” by Florian Idenburg and LeeAnn Suen, with photography by Iwan Baan.
Looking at that object fading into the past is this book’s accomplishment. The good thing about Idenburg’s and his collaborators’ message is that it does not excuse architects from the office’s design failures: “For every good intention bastardized by mass production, for every hardship that seeded reform, and perhaps even for every gamble that paid off, there were humans at the helm, making perfect plans, and there were humans altering and executing those plans….” What the authors have chosen to do is reveal the beauty of some of those intentions, as well as the fact that, as evidenced by Baan’s laconic photographs, even the most beautiful monument to work eventually turns into a banal background for everyday tasks that obscure whatever the architect and their client intended us to experience. The book’s cover is well-chosen for showing that condition: A view of the Rocky Mountains, framed by a smidgen of I.M. Pei’s concrete castellation for the NCAR Mesa Laboratory of 1964-67, dominates a small office where an old-fashioned lamp exudes warm, but overwhelmed light while an anonymous woman, her back to us, stares at the oh-so-familiar grid of an Outlook calendar on her computer.