March 7, 2012
Last month, we came across an infographic illustrating the details of the next economic bubble, one that hits painfully close to home for many of us: the higher education bubble. Charts and graphs depicting frightening disparities between annual salaries and student debts revealed glaring problems in the current structure of higher education in America, despite being tinted in an ironically joyous shade of mint green.
This problem is not a new one, and its solution, according to Speculist writer Steven Gordon, does not have to be either. His forecast is deceptively simple: in the future, everything will be a coffee shop. While Starbucks’ recent forays into architectural experimentation may come to mind, Gordon’s premonition can be seen as more or less architectural, depending on how one looks at it. His theory of ‘coffeeshopification’ is an appetizing way of articulating the decentralization of higher education and the general diffusion of any institution into a fluid and, importantly, more accessible form.
Though the quintessential college experience cannot quite trickle down into any sheltered space with a drip cone, Gordon foresees students accessing courses online, meeting up, and taking hold of their own educations, all within the loose confines of the ubiquitous coffee shop. The coffee shop, in Gordon’s analysis, is not seen as a commercial space, but as a space defined by its ambiguity, its ability to take on multiple functions all centered very loosely around that steamy, dark elixir of productivity. The warm, welcoming environment, so well equipped with food and beverage provisions, tables, chairs and Wi-Fi, has become the inadvertent hub of any activity that can be mobilized, from reading to working to learning to shopping (we can’t tell you how many times Architizer has relied on the local Starbucks as a temporary HQ).
So will everything in the future be a coffee shop? Though Gordon’s observations are on point (coffee shop set-ups are popping up in bookstores, churches, museums, offices, and theaters), the phenomenon speaks to broader trends in architecture that respond to increased mobility brought on by advances in technology and a general move away from the concrete, established institution. To some extent, the coffee shop has for now filled the vital interstitial spaces of a city by becoming a space people can occupy without a prescribed purpose, a space to kill time or to be industrious, a space for solitude and a space for collaboration.
And so we raise our cups to that.