Rethinking the work space
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The idea of the open plan workspace has been a popular model for office design since the 1960’s. The openness was thought to encourage collaboration and group thinking while also allowing for more supervision and a more flexible space overall. This model, however, is too instrumental. It neglects the fact that the modern workplace is a setting not just for work but where we spend a significant part of our public life. We enact presentations of self in the workplace, enter into planned and unplanned transactions, forge networks, create group identities, and at times withdraw from the public eye for contemplative work and for refuge. In the open-plan model, every activity becomes a ‘front stage’ activity where people always feel as if they are constantly putting on a performance. The model does not adequately address other needs. This holds particularly true in the creative professions where more seclusion is needed in order to produce innovative ideas. This thesis offers a new model to think about the workplace by taking the school of architecture as an example. The work is in two parts. The first, an analytical study of 10 schools, drawn from a larger sample of 26, shows that despite many innovations in form-making, schools of architecture have followed this model of the open plan workspace closely, particularly in the way studio spaces are designed. As a result activities like enactment of self, expression of identities, negotiation and encounters, and withdrawal from social life happen in ad hoc and re-purposed spaces. The second part offers a design response to this condition by proposing an intervention for one of the most well known schools of architecture and one that embodies a logically extreme version of the open plan idea, Crown Hall. This intervention, which proposes radical changes to the interior organization of Crown Hall while respecting its conceptual form and broad design intent, illustrates how a modern workplace can offer a space that allows the full complexity of the drama of daily life to enfold in a workplace setting.