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The collective unconscious of online corporations

November 6, 2015

Bollingen_TowerIn the last few pages of ABC Radio presenter Richard Glover’s book about building his own mud brick house in the NSW Southern Highlands – The Mud House – Glover quotes the psychologist Carl Jung who felt he had been “reborn in stone” as a result of the experience of building his own house. Glover concluded that building his own place had defined him too. “I made that house and the house made me.”

Earlier on the same day that I was reading Richard Glover’s book, I saw that Amazon was opening its first bricks-and-mortar retail store (‘Amazon opens first physical bookstore in Seattle’, 2 November 2015, Engadget) and I was struck by the thought:

Maybe companies like Amazon that have defined the digital economy with revolutionary online business models are struggling to truly define their own identity? Maybe a logo, a website, a slick business model, and a bunch of data centres and warehouses are no longer enough for these corporations born in the Internet era.

The famous Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who coined the term the ‘collective unconscious’ first built his own house, Bollingen Tower, on Lake Zurich in 1923.

Based on Jung’s ideas, there’s an interesting perspective on how architecture defines us in an International Association for Analytical Psychology paper from 2004, which I think is just as relevant to corporate identity – especially large enterprises that have grown from an ‘online-only’ base:

“Houses express our individual character. Whether visiting Bollingen or Graceland, Mt. Vernon or Anne Frank’s house, unique places such as these draw us to them through their promise to tell us not only about their owners, but about ourselves. Architecture is a subjective language that expresses the people and culture from which it derives, just as Jung’s tower reveals a great deal about both the man and his time. “From the beginning,” he wrote “I felt the tower to be a place of maturation – a maternal womb – in which I could become what I was, what I am, and will be. It gave me a feeling as if I were being reborn in stone. I built it in a kind of dream. Only afterwards did I see how all the parts fitted together and that a meaningful form had resulted: a symbol of psychic wholeness.” (Jung, 1963, p 213-214).” (‘Mystical Emergence: An Architectural Journey Through Jung’s Tower’, IAAP)

Amazon is not alone in expressing a need to express its identity through physical architecture, even if it flies in the face of business sense. Gizmodo, for example, doesn’t see the new Amazon Books store making money:

“Amazon’s got a lot of stick for causing the demise of physical bookstores, so it’s a little strange to see it opening up a store — even with the big-data approach to inventory, it’s difficult to imagine Amazon Books turning a profit.” (‘Amazon’s First Real Store Opened Today’, 4 November 2015, Gizmodo Australia)

Then there’s that widely-shared paragraph from TechCrunch about the latest ‘sharing economy’ darlings which, funnily enough, hasn’t stopped them from investing in their own fantastical architectural expressions.

“Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate.” (‘The Battle Is For The Customer Interface’, 3 March 2015, TechCrunch)

Airbnb went to town converting an old warehouse in San Francisco into its global headquarters, complete with eight replica iconic Airbnb listings:

“Any of the company’s 200 employees can schedule a team meeting in Bali, or camp out for a few hours with a laptop in Milan. They also restored the building’s former president’s office from 1917, when the warehouse was a battery factory. And, perhaps most audaciously, the Airbnb team converted a pre-existing cylindrical room into a model of the War Room in Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 Dr. Strangelove.” (‘Inside Airbnb’s Whimsical New Headquarters’, 9 December 2013, Fast Company)

And Uber is building its “first wildly ambitious, kind of ridiculous, and generally stunning headquarters to accommodate a ballooning headcount as growth explodes.” (‘Uber reveals plans for a giant glass headquarters in San Francisco’, 29 May 2015, The Verge)

However, it looks like Google has decided not to open its first ever retail store, despite reportedly spending “$6 million renovating the space” (. You can see the psychology behind the original retail plans – wanting something bigger and better than two of its competitors Microsoft and Apple – who have been opening lavish retail outlets all around the world.

It’s good to see there is still some common sense prevailing.

(Pictured above: “CG Jung’s tower in Bollingen, Swiss”, available under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International, 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic licence.)

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