The pleasures & perils of the open-plan office
Open-plan offices they can be noisy and distracting or depressingly quiet, and frictions with co-workers are guaranteed – so why do so many of us continue to work in open-plan offices?
In the spring of 1962, a fourth-year British architectural student was tasked with sketching an office layout.
In the course of his research, Frank Duffy stumbled across a small article in a trade magazine about a new workplace design that had taken hold in Germany. Accompanying the article was a curious photograph.
“The arrangement of the desks was somehow organic,” Duffy recalls. “And there were other features that were striking. There were lots of plants around the place, and a carpet.”
The office in the photograph was open-plan, but it was a world away from the open-plan offices with which everyone was then familiar.
These had arrived about a century earlier, when architects had started to use cast-iron girders to open up larger spaces within a building. In the American industrial boom of the late 19th Century, bosses jumped at the chance to replicate their beloved factory lines with ranks of pen-pushers.
Clerical workers sat at small desks in straight rows, often facing the same way – a classroom without a teacher.
My cover photo is taken from the article.