The Bartlett School of Architecture


Petra Seitz

Larkin Administration Building


Where Do You Cry in an Open Plan Office? Labour Process Theory and Commercial Office Interiors.

First and second supervisors


From late Victorian factory-styled offices to contemporary open plan spaces, millions upon millions of workers over the past century have spent the majority of their days toiling within office spaces. Despite this, surprisingly little literature explores the office simultaneously as physical space and site of extraction of labour power. This project aims to fill this gap through a synthesis of Marxist labour process theory with the design, realisation and experience of commercial office interiors.

Stemming in large part from Harry Braverman’s seminal Labor and Monopoly Capital (1974), labour process theory explores the organisation and execution of work under capitalism. Labour process theory pays particular attention to local systems of management and control of labour and workplaces, including how these are used to reduce the power of working people.

Built upon archival, theoretical, object-based, and oral-historical research, this dissertation applies labour process theory to the space of the physical office, exploring how capitalist mechanisations can inform how office spaces have developed, and why they have developed in the particular ways in which they have.

This dissertation will synthesise labour process and office design/architecture in two primary ways: through a re-telling of the history of the office by traditionally benchmarked sites such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s Larkin Administration Building, Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building, Herman Miller’s Action Office, Gaetano Pesce’s designs for Chiat/Day and the Googleplex; and through targeted lesser-known case studies both of archetypal and atypical office interiors.


Petra Seitz is a Design Historian focusing on the intersection between politics and design. In addition to her Bartlett PhD, Petra is currently undertaking work on modernist furniture designed for the city of Chandigarh, India.

She holds a BA in Politics from Oberlin College and a MA in History of Design from the Victoria and Albert Museum/Royal College of Art where her dissertation examined World War II bomb damage to the facade of the V&A Museum and the development of heritage-based understandings of historical events.

Prior to her current career in design history, Petra worked in non-profit fundraising in both health and media landscapes.

Image: "Larkin Administration Building / Frank Lloyd Wright / Buffalo, New York / 1904-06" by Hooked On The Past is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0