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)