The Cubicle: A Big Mistake

March 14, 2006

Robert Oppenheimer agonized over building the A-bomb. Alfred Nobel got queasy about creating dynamite. Robert Propst invented nothing so destructive. Yet before he died in 2000, he lamented his unwitting contribution to what he called “monolithic insanity.”

So begins a really well written article from Fortune magazine by Julie Schlosser. The office cubicle as we know it today is nothing like its prototype, the “action office,” designed by Robert Propst. The action office was supposed to be ergonomically and organizationally designed to suit an office worker’s physical and functional needs. Not just to be small and cheap. But the ability to shrink them was a modern seeming way for companies’ to save money on the real estate line item and consequently sent them back to being the same old open bullpen of a typing pool, but with ugly beige half walls.

Yeah, I work in one of these. Though it was designed during the late 90s, so it is supposed to be more hip. Ah, I long for plain beige. The rug looks like an olive drab giraffe and the walls are painted a textured insane asylum green (I think the color was thought to be “calming”) and the work surfaces are black faux granite and the pod sides, which are steel and therefore no use for pinning things to, are a riotous carnival pattern reminiscent of airline upholstery. Most workers’ backs are to the hallway, so though we have windows, which is nice, there’s an unconscious anxiety that no doubt could be articulated by someone familiar with the flying stars of Feng Shui. Hey, the company has not done so well since we moved into this hideous configuration. All signs point to….see?

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One Response to “The Cubicle: A Big Mistake”


  1. I was just telling someone about this article the other day. But I have to say that coming from Lucent with its rows upon rows of grey squares and windows that looked into rows upon rows of wired networking racks, I was nearly giddy when I first walked into our current setup. It’s all about perspective I guess.

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