Open plan office – minimal working space

The office has been a testing ground, not only for ideologies of power and productivity but also for representation and identity. While the second half of the twentieth century was characterized by repetition and sameness due to profit, leaving the architect’s role to provide little more space to design, the efficiency of the repetitive floors soon became equated with the monotony and depersonalization of the workplace. Hence, in order to improve the worker’s condition, another alternative to the plan office was developed: the open plan. Freed from any form of walls, the cells of the worker is no more: desks and equipment are arranged in ordered rows in a big open space. As the place of the worker is minimized to his desk and chair and corridors cut to a minimum, there is a gain of space inside the buildings.

Comparison of space utilization between the conventional offices and the open plan one (Duffy, Office landscaping)

The open plan offices are often very large: the need of artificial light and good ventilation are required in order to create good working conditions. However, it is no more possible for the individuals to control their surroundings and there is a lack of privacy, as the worker is no more protected from his neighbor except with the screen of his computer. However, the communication between workers are eased as there are no separating walls. Furthermore, there is no more hierarchy between the people of the same floor except for the entrepreneur which is placed at the highest point, unreachable, in order to supervise the workers from his own place.

Hierarchy inside the Van nelle factory, Arte Documentary

The office space is ruled by only three elements: circulation, structure and services. “They are the few elements that we have at our disposal in defining architectural character. Beyond infrastructural necessities, they become prized chess pieces in rethinking spatial and organizational logic. The robustness of the design depends in great part on the strategic placement and conceptualization of these otherwise quite banal systems of a building.”(A-typical Plan, Kuo, 2012)

In the late 1950s, a new concept of office planning emerged in order to counter the problems of the open space. People were beginning to regard the office not simply as a workplace nor an hierarchical chain of command, but as a united whole in which many complex inter-actions took place; the psychology of group work was being investigated. It results in the office landscape which is proved to be “effective, flexible and more acceptable than either corridor offices or open plans”. With the use of carpet and movable screens, the problems of privacy and loss of status and individuality and the physical problems of noise and distraction inherent in the open plan are solved by portable elements. The flexibility of the design is the equivalent for the organization of the individual’s freedom of maneuver at his desk.

Three faces of a Layout, Office landscaping

However, since there are different activities in one place, a vast range of machines and equipment, the need of each person is different: some might be noisy, other quiet. It is difficult to answer to all this different characteristics at the same time. Therefore, in the last offices constructed, we can see a mix between the open office, the cubicles and the close one: open working spaces are used but the desks are regrouped into small groups and separated with shelves. Cells in order to have meetings are often in the periphery of the plans. In the past few years, phonebooth have appeared in the open office plan: people can go there and make their calls without disturbing their coworkers.

Moreover, due to the recent measure taken in order to prevent the spread of the virus, are we slowly returning to the cubicles? or even corridor offices? we can see example of office places but transparent: everyone next to each other but separated by Plexiglas.

What kinds of space are we willing to work and live in now? Ill. Emma Roulette

Nowadays, with the recent event, work from home has been experienced. Hence, many people were triggered by this question: do we really need a space dedicated to work only? Is it needed to gather in one place physically to work on his/her own screen? Can’t we just work together virtually? With the globalization effect, people from other countries are employed as their salary is lower than the one in the country. The period of confinement has proven that people can work remotely all thanks to technology.

Furthermore, machines tend to take the place of humans physically: the human control everything from his control tower which could be close to the factory but at the same time, somewhere else, far away, maybe in another continent.

Can’t we live and work anywhere as long as we have internet?