Beatriz Colom­ina 24/7 Bed

What do we do in bed to­day, and what has be­come of this hor­i­zon­tal ar­chi­tec­ture in our liq­uid-work so­ci­ety?


When John Len­non and Yoko Ono mar­ried se­cretly in Gi­bral­tar on 20 March 1969, the cer­e­mony lasted only three min­utes. But these min­utes, so elab­o­rately pro­tected, were in fact the end of pri­vacy. They promptly in­vited a global au­di­ence into their hon­ey­moon bed, a week­long Bed-In for Peace held from 25 to 31 March in room 902 of the Am­s­ter­dam Hil­ton In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel. Two of the most pub­lic people in the world, they put them­selves in a lit­eral fish bowl, the glass box of the Hil­ton, and cre­ated a site for work be­yond paid labour. But the work day didn’t end at 9 pm. John and Yoko re­peat­edly de­clared that they wanted to con­ceive a baby dur­ing that week. The bed is both protest site and fac­tory for baby pro­duc­tion: a fuck­tory.1 John and Yoko didn’t sim­ply oc­cupy the room. They re­designed it as a me­dia stage set with a par­tic­u­lar im­age in mind. They were, in ev­ery sense, the ar­chi­tects of that im­age. It is not by chance that the pub­lished im­ages look so sim­i­lar; prac­ti­cally only one angle was pos­si­ble. They had emp­tied the usual Hil­ton room, re­mov­ing all the fur­ni­ture, art­work and dec­o­ra­tion, leav­ing only the king-size bed, which they de­lib­er­ately placed against the floor-to-ceil­ing glass wall, with a panoramic view onto the city of Am­s­ter­dam. With their backs to the win­dow, they faced in­side the room in a kind of Loosian move.2 Their bod­ies against the light – in an all-white back­ground of white walls, white sheets, white py­ja­mas, and white flow­ers – seemed to fly above Am­s­ter­dam. The ho­tel is in the city, but de­tached, a trans­par­ent oa­sis. But what is out­side? The back­ground is Am­s­ter­dam, at the time the cen­tre of Europe’s 1960s cul­tural and sex­ual revo­lu­tion, of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion with sex, drugs, rock‘n’ roll, po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism and protest — against the Viet­nam War, the lo­cal gov­ern­ment and hous­ing short­ages; for equal rights, abor­tion and even al­ter­na­tive forms of trans­porta­tion. The 24/7 bed of John Len­non and Yoko Ono an­tic­i­pates thus the work­ing bed of to­day. In what is prob­a­bly now a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate, the Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported in 2012 that 80 per cent of young New York City pro­fes­sion­als work reg­u­larly from bed. The fan­tasy of the home of­fice has given way to the re­al­ity of the bed of­fice. The very mean­ing of the word “of­fice” has been trans­formed. Mil­lions of dis­persed beds are tak­ing over from con­cen­trated of­fice build­ings. The boudoir is de­feat­ing the tower. Net­worked elec­tronic tech­nolo­gies have re­moved any limit to what can be done in bed. But how did we get here?

In his fa­mous short text Louis-Philippe, or the In­te­rior, Wal­ter Ben­jamin wrote of the split­ting of work and home in the 19th cen­tury: “Un­der LouisPhilippe, the pri­vate ci­ti­zen en­ters the stage of his­tory. . . . For the pri­vate per­son, liv­ing space be­comes, for the first time, an­ti­thet­i­cal to the place of work. The former is con­sti­tuted by the in­te­rior; the of­fice is its com­ple­ment. The pri­vate per­son who squares his ac­counts with re­al­ity in his of­fice de­mands that his in­te­rior be main­tained in his il­lu­sions....From this spring the phan­tas­mago­rias of the in­te­rior. For the pri­vate in­di­vid­ual the pri­vate en­vi­ron­ment rep­re­sents the uni­verse. In it he gath­ers re­mote places and the past. His liv­ing room is a box in the world the­ater.”3

In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion brought with it the eight-hour shift and the rad­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the home and the of­fice or fac­tory, be­tween rest and work, night and day. Post-in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion col­lapses work back into the home and takes it fur­ther into the bed­room and into the bed it­self. Phan­tas­mago­ria is no longer lin­ing the room in wall­pa­per, fab­ric, im­ages and ob­jects. It is now in elec­tronic de­vices. The whole uni­verse is con­cen­trated on a small screen with the bed float­ing in an in­fi­nite sea of in­for­ma­tion. To lie down is not to rest but to move. The bed is now a site of ac­tion.

The vol­un­tary in­valid has no need of their legs. The bed has be­come the ul­ti­mate pros­thetic and a whole new in­dus­try is de­voted to pro­vid­ing con­trap­tions to fa­cil­i­tate work while ly­ing down — read­ing, writ­ing, tex­ting, record­ing, broad­cast­ing, lis­ten­ing, talk­ing and, of course, eat­ing, drink­ing, sleep­ing or mak­ing love, ac­tiv­i­ties that seem to have been turned, of late, into work it­self.

End­less ad­vice is dis­pensed about how to “work” on your per­sonal re­la­tion­ships and “sched­ule” sex with your part­ner. Sleep­ing is def­i­nitely hard w ork too, for mil­lions, with the psy­cho-phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try pro­vid­ing new drugs ev­ery year and an army of sleep ex­perts pro­vid­ing ad­vice on how to achieve this ap­par­ently ever more elu­sive goal — all in the name of higher pro­duc­tiv­ity, of course. Ev­ery­thing done in the bed has be­come work.

This phi­los­o­phy was al­ready em­bod­ied in the fig­ure of Hugh Hefner, who fa­mously al­most never left his bed, let alone his house. He lit­er­ally moved his of­fice to his bed in 1960 when he moved into the Play­boy Man­sion at 1340 North State Park­way, Chicago, turn­ing it into the epi­cen­tre of a global em­pire and his silk py­ja­mas and dress­ing gown into his busi­ness at­tire. “I don’t go out of the house at all!!! . . . I am a con­tem­po­rary recluse,” he told Tom Wolfe, guess­ing that the last time he was out had been three and a half months be­fore and that in the last two years he had been out of the house only nine times.4 Play­boy turns the bed into a work­place. From the mid-1950s on, the bed be­comes in­creas­ingly so­phis­ti­cated, out­fit­ted with all sorts of en­ter­tain­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tion de­vices as a kind of con­trol room.

Hefner was not alone. The bed may have been the ul­ti­mate Amer­i­can of­fice at mid­cen­tury. In an in­ter­view in the Paris Re­view in 1957, Tru­man

Capote is asked, “What are some of your writ­ing habits? Do you use a desk? Do you write on a ma­chine?” To which he an­swers: “I am a com­pletely hor­i­zon­tal au­thor. I can’t think un­less I’m ly­ing down, ei­ther in bed or stretched on a couch and with a cig­a­rette and a cof­fee handy.”5

Even ar­chi­tects set up of­fice in bed at mid­cen­tury. Richard Neu­tra started work­ing the mo­ment he woke up with elab­o­rate equip­ment en­abling him to de­sign, write or even in­ter­view in bed. Neu­tra’s bed in the VDL house in Sil­ver Lake, Los An­ge­les, in­cluded two pub­lic phones; three com­mu­ni­ca­tion sta­tions for talk­ing with other rooms in the house, the of­fice below and even an­other of­fice 500 me­tres away; three dif­fer­ent call bells; draft­ing boards and easels that folded down over the bed; elec­tric lights and a ra­dio­gramo­phone con­trolled from a dash­board over­head. A bed­side ta­ble rolling on cast­ers held the tape recorder, elec­tric clock and stor­age com­part­ments for draw­ing and writ­ing equip­ment so that he could, as Neu­tra put it in a let­ter to his sis­ter, “use ev­ery minute from morn­ing to late night.”6

Post­war Amer­ica in­au­gu­rated the high­per­for­mance bed as an epi­cen­tre of pro­duc­tiv­ity, a new form of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion that was ex­ported glob­ally and has now be­come avail­able to an in­ter­na­tional army of dis­persed but in­ter­con­nected pro­duc­ers. A new kind of fac­tory with­out walls is con­structed by com­pact elec­tron­ics and ex­tra pil­lows for the 24/7 gen­er­a­tion.

The kind of equip­ment that Hefner en­vi­sioned (some of which, like the an­swer­ing ma­chine, didn’t yet ex­ist) is now ex­panded for the In­ter­net and so­cial-me­dia gen­er­a­tion who not only work in bed but so­cialise in bed, ex­er­cise in bed, read the news in bed and en­ter­tain sex­ual re­la­tion­ships with people miles away from their beds. The Play­boy fan­tasy of the nice girl next door is more likely re­alised to­day with some­one on an­other con­ti­nent than in the same build­ing or neigh­bour­hood — a per­son you may never have seen be­fore and may never see again, and it is any­body’s guess if she is real or an elec­tronic con­struc­tion. Does it mat­ter? As in the re­cent film Her, a mov­ing de­pic­tion of life in the soft, uter­ine state that is a corol­lary to our new mo­bile tech­nolo­gies, the “her” in ques­tion is an op­er­at­ing sys­tem that turns out to be a more sat­is­fy­ing part­ner than a per­son. The pro­tag­o­nist lies in bed with Her, chat­ting, ar­gu­ing, mak­ing love and even­tu­ally break­ing up still in bed.

If, ac­cord­ing to Jonathan Crary, late cap­i­tal­ism is the end of sleep, colonis­ing ev­ery minute of our lives for pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion, the ac­tions of the vol­un­tary recluse are not so vol­un­tary in the end.7 The 19th-cen­tury divi­sion of the city be­tween rest and work may soon be­come ob­so­lete. Not only have our habits and habi­tat changed with the In­ter­net and so­cial me­dia, but the pre­dic­tions about the end of hu­man labour in the wake of new tech­nolo­gies and robo­ti­sa­tion that were al­ready be­ing made at the end of the 19th cen­tury are no longer treated as fu­tur­is­tic.

Economists won­der what kind of eco­nomic model this re­al­ity will lead to: from grow­ing in­equal­i­ties with vast amounts of people un­em­ployed to largescale re­dis­tri­bu­tion in the form of Univer­sal Ba­sic In­come, which was re­cently con­sid­ered in a ref­er­en­dum in Switzer­land and re­jected. The end of paid labour and its re­place­ment with cre­ative leisure was al­ready en­vi­sioned in utopian projects of the 1960s and 1970s by Con­stant, Su­per­stu­dio and Archizoom, in­clud­ing hyper-equipped beds. Mean­while the city has started to re­design it­self.

In to­day’s at­ten­tion-deficit-dis­or­der so­ci­ety, we have dis­cov­ered that we work bet­ter in short bursts punc­tu­ated by rest. To­day many com­pa­nies pro­vide sleep­ing pods in the of­fice to max­imise pro­duc­tiv­ity. Spe­cial self-en­closed beds have been de­signed for of­fice spa­ces — turn­ing them­selves into com­pact sealed cap­sules, mini-space­ships, that can be used in iso­la­tion or gath­ered to­gether in clus­ters or lined up in rows for syn­chro­nised sleep — un­der­stood as a part of work rather than its op­po­site.

Be­tween the bed in­serted in the of­fice and the of­fice in­serted in the bed, a whole new hor­i­zon­tal ar­chi­tec­ture has taken over. It is mag­ni­fied by the “flat” net­works of so­cial me­dia that have them­selves been fully in­te­grated into the pro­fes­sional, busi­ness and in­dus­trial en­vi­ron­ment in a col­lapse of tra­di­tional dis­tinc­tions be­tween pri­vate and pub­lic, work and play, rest and ac­tion.

The bed it­self – with its ever more so­phis­ti­cated mat­tress, lin­ings and tech­ni­cal at­tach­ments – is the ba­sis of an in­trauter­ine en­vi­ron­ment that com­bines the sense of deep in­te­ri­or­ity with the sense of hy­per­con­nec­tiv­ity to the out­side.

What is the na­ture of this new in­te­rior into which we have de­cided col­lec­tively to check our­selves in? What is the ar­chi­tec­ture of this prison in which night and day, work and play are no longer dif­fer­en­ti­ated and we are per­ma­nently un­der sur­veil­lance? New me­dia turns us all into in­mates, con­stantly un­der sur­veil­lance, even as we cel­e­brate end­less con­nec­tiv­ity. We have all be­come “a con­tem­po­rary recluse,” as Hugh Hefner put it half a cen­tury ago.

In Laura Poitras’s film Ci­ti­zen­four, we see Ed­ward Snow­den close up, sit­ting on his bed in a Hong Kong ho­tel for days on end, sur­rounded by his lap­tops, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with jour­nal­ists in the room and around the world about the se­cret world of mas­sive global sur­veil­lance. The big­gest in­va­sion of pri­vacy in the his­tory of the planet is re­vealed from bed and dom­i­nates all me­dia. The most pub­lic fig­ure in the world at that mo­ment is a recluse. Ar­chi­tec­ture has been in­verted.

Beatriz Colom­ina is Pro­fes­sor of Ar­chi­tec­ture and Di­rec­tor of Grad­u­ate Stud­ies in the School of Ar­chi­tec­ture. She is Found­ing Di­rec­tor of the in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary Me­dia and Moder­nity Pro­gram Prince­ton Univer­sity.


1 Writ­ten I re­cently re­con­structed the scene of the Am­s­ter­dam Hil­ton Bed-In in de­tail within the Dutch pavil­ion cu­rated by Ma­rina Otero Verzier for the 2018 Venice Bi­en­nale of Ar­chi­tec­ture and, in the spirit of the orig­i­nal event, did a marathon of in­ter­views in bed on the ques­tion of beds and post-labour with Made­lon Vriesendorp, Hans Ul­rich Obrist, Odile Decq, Liz Diller, An­dres Jaque, Winy Maas etc. 2 Adolf Loos al­ways placed the couch against the win­dow with the oc­cu­pants fac­ing the in­te­rior and turned into a sil­hou­ette against the light for those en­ter­ing the room. See Beatriz Colom­ina, Pri­vacy and Pub­lic­ity: Mod­ern Ar­chi­tec­ture as Mass Me­dia, MIT press, Cam­bridge (MA) 1994. 3 Wal­ter Ben­jamin, ‘‘Louis-Philippe, or the In­te­rior’’, in Re­flec­tions: Es­says, Apho­risms, Au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal Writ­ings, ed. Peter Demetz, trans. Ed­mund Jeph­cott, Scho­ken Books, New York 1978, p. 154. 4 Tom Wolfe, ‘‘King of the Sta­tus Dropouts’’, The Pump House Gang, Far­rar, Straus & Giroux, New York 1965. 5 Tru­man Capote, The Art of Fic­tion No. 17, in­ter­viewed by Patti Hill, The Paris Re­view 16, Spring–Sum­mer 1957. 6 Richard Neu­tra to Ver­ena Saslavsky, 4 De­cem­ber 1953, Dion Neu­tra Pa­pers, quoted in Thomas S. Hines, Richard Neu­tra and the Search for Mod­ern Ar­chi­tec­ture: A Bi­og­ra­phy and His­tory, Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Press, Los An­ge­les 1982, p. 251. 7 Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Cap­i­tal­ism and the Ends of Sleep, Verso, New York 2013.

For the Dutch Pavil­ion ti­tled “Work, Body, Leisure” at the 16th In­ter­na­tional Ar­chi­tec­ture Ex­hi­bi­tion in Venice, Beatriz Colom­ina wel­comed visi­tors to a re­con­struc­tion of the Am­s­ter­dam Hil­ton Ho­tel’s Room 902, where John Len­non and Yoko Ono hon­ey­mooned. Left: John Len­non and Yoko Ono, Bed-in for Peace, Am­s­ter­dam, 25 March 1969

Top: Hugh Hefner at work in his fa­mous round bed at the Play­boy Man­sion, Chicago (1973)

Left: a still from Spike Jonze’s film Her (2013)

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