CUBED: Where Did Your Cubicle Come From?

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You mean this place we go to five days a week has a history? Cubed reveals the unexplored yet surprising story of the places where most of the world's work—our work—gets done. From "Bartleby the Scrivener" to The Office, from the steno pool to the open-plan cubicle farm, Cubed is a fascinating, often funny, and sometimes disturbing anatomy of the white-collar world and how it came to be the way it is—and what it might become. For More Info:

Transcript of CUBED: Where Did Your Cubicle Come From?

  • The Cube Meant to give workers autonomy and freedom, the cubicle turned into one of the greatest symbols of white collar drudgery and servitude. ! But what factors lead to conning your existence within three walls?
  • When capitalism shifted into its second gear in the late 19th century, the need for greater administration became paramount and ofces grew to be enormous; the number of jobs differentiated as well. The result was that the ofce became indistinguishable from the factory: dozens of people working in assembly-line-like arrangements, at a constant pace with mind- numbing consistency. Factor One: Creating the Ofce Utopia
  • Factor Two: Acknowledging and Compensating for Less-Than-Desirable Work In 1905, The Larkin Building was the ofce of a mail order company that, like Amazon today, sold everything and opened the workspace for clerks and administration.
  • Larkin tried to make people feel better about how bad the work was by giving them amenities: noonday lectures to attend classes to frequent a company newspaper Sound familiar?
  • Factor Three: Pioneering Works of Architecture Lever House
  • Pioneering Architecture Skyscraper Amenities included: lots of light restaurants Libraries sitting rooms for employees and employee families model apartments for the staff. The Problem? the endless reproducibility of the model: skyscrapers could be reproduced at nausea Pullman Building
  • Factor Four: Suburbanization! Connec'cut General By the postwar era, suburbanization had accelerated, leading to an enormous ight of middle classes from the urban core; ofces followed. Why? racial and labor tension in the cities the lack of space in the cities access to younger female workers
  • German for ofce landscape, Brolandschaft is the origin of the open ofce plan. The idea was to: make things more informal level hierarchies create more serendipitous encounters Instead, workers saw: noise, distraction, the emergence of informal ofces with makeshift screens and house plants. In Europe, the open ofce plan was rejected by workers, the only place where it succeeded was the US. Factor Five: The Brolandschaft
  • Factor Six: Robert Propsts Action Ofce
  • So where does your cubicle come from? The Action Ofce. Developed for the Herman Miller company, the Action Ofce was created by Robert Propst who saw the potential in the open ofce plan but also realized that workers needed a space they could call their own. Unfortunately, Propst ran up against the desire for companies to cram as many workers into as little space as possible. His workspace became a box.
  • One of the common problems we see over the course of ofce history is the dissonance between design and culture.
  • Looking Past The Cube *Photo from the new (and improved) TBWA/Chiat/Day If we really care about the autonomy of workers, we have to make that autonomy more meaningful than being allowed to work wherever you want. When we think about the future of the ofce, we shouldnt just think about design and technology. We should think about control, and who has it.
  • Learn More in Cubed: The Secret History Of The Workplace by Nikil Saval Photo Credit: Katrina Ohstorm Amazon | B&N | iTunes | IndieBound