I’m not sure whether this is best understood as an example of unintended consequences or of the inevitable evil/cluelessness of the suits. Regardless, it is certainly a story worth understanding in more depth.
As a consultant I’ve spent most of my career working in temporary spaces of one sort or another. There is great power in being able to quickly rearrange workspace to meet immediate needs. More often than not, that has worked best with the cheapest and simplest of furnishings. While cubicles capture the form of flexibility, they often miss the spirit. And the hardest issue is usually how to avoid the furniture police.
Happy 40th Birthday, cubicle!. Mark Frauenfelder: Metropolis‘ Yvonne Abrahams profiles Bob Propst, inventor of the office cubicle. A great example of a neat idea morphing into its opposite.
So, in 1964, Herman Miller’s Action Office system was born. It started with a huge open area, sectioned off to give workers completely enclosed spaces if needed, or semi-enclosed spaces for a more social kind of privacy. Offices were arranged in such a way that workers would be likely to have plenty of contact with each other and with management.
Propst’s forward-thinking motives were misinterpreted by some companies, which simply crammed more workers into smaller spaces and took advantage of the system’s huge potential for savings and tax breaks … “Lots are run by crass people who can take the same kind of equipment and create hellholes. They make little bitty cubicles and stuff people in them. Barren, rat-hole places.”