I’m still in process of moving office, in many ways it’s a bit of an archaeological dig as I go through various artefacts. Of course all this has got me thinking – what’s the purpose of an office. I say this because for me it is mostly a repository (I so hope that’s the right one – known for my typos as I am). But I notice that for others it is some sort of home from home, some even seem to have personal shrines created with various stickers, googly eyed fur balls and photos. Others seem to use the office as a status symbol or a symbol of ‘teamwork’ by the battery farm approach.
Let’s dig in to these a bit more. What does the home from home suggest about the user? Is this an attempt to remind them of home (where they would rather be), to bring together the two things they love or to make a cosy space from which to work? What sort of space do these people need? I would suggest that perhaps all three of these ‘needs’ would be mostly satisfied by stability and few changes of location. In addition there seems to be a need for borders and boundaries. Ok we can achieve that in the work place – but is that desirable? Can you innovate and create in such a space or does it lend itself more to familiar routine? Of course we could argue that not everyone needs to be innovative and creative – but I purposefully added ‘argue’ – I’m not convinced that there is separation between effective and innovative.
So what of our status seeking friend? What of the need to prove who is boss? Well I think we have answered it there. I once heard a story about an English army officer who was in charge of a garrison where swagger sticks had become some sort of status symbol resulting in junior officers parading around like peacocks with these devices tucked under one arm. It was getting out of hand the senior officer thought. His response was a simple memo: “RE swagger sticks: If you need one use one.” This had the desired effect. Not sure a similar email would work with offices but this idea of status is interesting. A desire for status and a desire for perfection (which in many ways are similar traits) stems from insecurity I believe. Worryingly this may mean some organisations have senior staff who are quite insecure – and actually I would content they do.
We all need props - literal and metaphorical. As one of my students once pointed out in a presentation, I am rarely seen without either a phone or a cup of coffee or both (thanks Mark). I also like some comfort – I feel happier using my ‘own’ PC or laptop for example. But I guess it is at the edges and fringes we can start to worry. As a student (amateur) of architecture I was always interested in Le Corbusier’s quote “The house is a machine for living in”. Not as minimalist as it sounds (in my interpretation) but rather the building works for you and not you for it.
Doors, silence and space seem to me to be the issues. Probably throw a bit of observation in there too – our very own panopticon. I like the idea of spaces but no doors. Imagine your office corridor but with double size door openings with no doors. Sort of substantial cubicles. Quieter than open plan, less enclosed than offices and yet still having a feeling of substantial walls and not the fragility of ‘dividers’ that are as useful acoustically as hospital curtains.
As for me – I’m back to do some more sorting out and think I’ll experiment with a nomadic style taking advantage of technology and allowing me to maximise time with students and staff – I just need a cupboard to dump this junk in................