The trend for open plan life
“And now the News at Ten, with Huw Edwards…” The camera pans across the studio, looking down on ranks of backroom newsgatherers at their office cubicles. We focus on a figure at a very large, empty desk. Huw (for it is he) is sitting in front of an expanse of semi-clear glass. As the bulletin gets underway, behind Huw’s back we notice figures stirring at their desks, walking around, getting up to go home, and even – according to viewers’ complaints last year – playing ‘lightsabres’ with umbrellas.
It’s only when you see footage of old-style newsreading that you realise how much has changed.
Long gone are the days when a chap sat in front of an austerely blank wall embellished only with a photo in the corner to illustrate the news item.
To help me work out what this open plan, reveal-all TV news trend means in broader cultural terms, I’ve looked to the restaurant world for some context.
In most establishments, you only glimpse the steamy kitchens when waiting staff come in and out of the swing doors bearing food. But in recent years it’s been hard to completely miss the trend for a more open kind of set-up. You can look up from your artfully arranged salad to see the chef and his underlings sweating over fiery pans.
The NoMI Kitchen at Park Hyatt in Chicago calls itself ‘A Relaxed Open Kitchen Restaurant’, which suggests that observing the chef in the heat of battle somewhat counter-intuitively makes us feel more chilled. For supporting evidence that the management equates informality with happiness, just look at the website blurb about the ‘comfortable, approachable’ dining room.
It’s a given, of course, that there’s been a shift towards the ‘informal’ in all areas of life, whether it’s work attire (chinos replacing suits) or fine dining (chucking out the starched white tablecloths). So it seems the open plan environment is a means of removing barriers between roles, statuses and job functions, and dissolving some of the mystery that surrounds the end results – the neat pile of spaghetti carbonara, or the polished newscasting.
The NoMI Kitchen also offers ‘interactive culinary workshops’ among its events. The NoMI guys like the idea of forming a deeper connection with customers than is possible by simply plonking food in front of them. Likewise, the BBC News team don’t just want to enter our living rooms via our plasma screens: they also want to invite us into their studio and show us what’s going on, and perhaps to remind us, in case we’re sceptical about licence fee value-for-money, that it takes a lot of people to bring us a news programme.