Money

In the Future, You'll Work, Exercise, Sleep, and Die in the Same Building

This is what's become of the American dream.

by Alex Norcia
May 16 2019, 11:00am

Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly/Getty Images

Pretty soon everybody will be able to work from home, because they will be sleeping in their office. That's the seemingly inevitable conclusion to the simple and theoretically productive trend of adding more and more domestic amenities to the workplace—free booze, cafeterias, ping pong tables—that may serve to keep you around for longer than you need to be.

This is what's become of the American dream: Work hard enough, and you'll get to keep working hard while feeling vaguely pampered. You'll never even have to go outside.

So it might come as no surprise that Equinox, the luxury fitness chain that provides gym-goers with full-service spas, eucalyptus towels, and an online magazine, is about to offer you a place to do your job, too. Pull up a chair, freelancer: According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Equinox has entered into a partnership with the co-working company Industrious, and will help unveil a "furnished office space" in a tower at Manhattan's deeply controversial Hudson Yards. (The development was recently described by New York as a "billionaire's fantasy city.")

The Equinox workspace is the latest addition to a 72-story skyscraper that, as the Journal noted, blends up "a taste of everything: apartments, hotel rooms, a gym, a restaurant, and six floors of office space, along with easy access to the high-end shopping mall next door." Which is to say that it blurs every imaginable line and potential boundary in your life.



This is just one instance of a larger trend of mixed-use high-end spaces popping up in U.S. cities. Clearly, the financial class has taken notice of millennial work-life balance issues as an investment opportunity. As Edward W. Walter, the CEO of the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, told the paper, "Lenders and investors have realized there's a lot of good things coming out of mixed-use buildings, including a more diversified income stream."

The question is how far all this goes—and who gets rich along the way.

"I'm surprised Starbucks isn't into it yet," Joel Kotkin, a presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University in Orange, California, said in an interview. "Basically, people who own space are trying to figure how to keep people in them. Particularly when the traditional work environment is disappearing—the idea of somebody having a cubby in an office—then you have to think of other ways to get people to occupy space."

"I think you're just going to see more and more of these sort of attempts to use space in a different way, especially given the fact that so much space will be made redundant by what's happening with online retail," he continued. "So the question becomes how you reconfigure that space into something that's profitable."

These businesspeople are banking on the notion, then, of a one-stop shop—that Equinox members and guests will do a little yoga, quickly shower, dry off with a eucalyptus towel, and dive right into however they make money, all of which can be accomplished by taking an elevator up and down a few floors. When they're tired, they can go up to bed if they like—and, in the morning, they're free to do it over again.

This is arguably part of what the Atlantic labeled "workism," a sort of new religion for millennials and the college-educated elite centered on "the belief that work is not only necessary to economic production, but also the centerpiece of one's identity and life's purpose." But this isn't merely a lifestyle thing: It's now creeping into our physical geography, how our cities are made, how our streets are populated.

"We are seeing young, college-educated adults increasingly choosing to live in downtown areas in cities across the country, where they can live close to work as well as amenities like gyms and restaurants," Ingrid Gould Ellen, a professor of urban policy and planning at NYU, wrote in an email. "As young professionals work longer hours, they may be looking for ways to cut down on travel time. They may also just appreciate the vitality of mixed-use areas."

Which, sure. This type of architecture might be a necessary spatial change responding to the times, but it is, nonetheless, also a nifty sleight of hand. Why wake up early to work out when you can just deadlift some weights and then walk down the hallway to your desk? Why spend an otherwise serviceable Sunday driving to the mall when there's one downstairs, forever available? Why hang out with your friends when your coworkers are your friends?

For its part, after hemorrhaging billions of dollars with a rental and "asset-light" model, co-working giant WeWork is "now wagering that buildings become more valuable with WeWorks in them," according to a Bloomberg Businessweek profile of the company's founder published Wednesday. The much-hyped brand has begun purchasing buildings of its own—the premise being that other tenants will be attracted to the culture and space much like, in the past, they might have liked living close to the grocery store.

Taking the "workism" thesis to its furthest conclusion, if work is rapidly transforming into our religion, then these multipurpose skyscrapers are our temples, our cathedrals. They are physical manifestations of what employment is becoming—never-ending, all-consuming, around-the-clock. (No matter that a major aspect of any religious tradition is it tends to separate labor and leisure, or at least labor and devotion—you farm for six days a week so you can do nothing but pray on Sunday. Even God took a break.)

A storefront Staples, as Kotkin suggested, might be irrelevant now, but just wait until one of these companies finds some room to squeeze in a funeral parlor and a graveyard. We'll be completely set.

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