The Leader Magazine

JUN 2019

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F E A T U R E A R T I C L E 20 JUNE 2019 th E l E ad E r Good by design: a response to the open-office debate by James Truhan G iven prevailing cultural narratives and a study by the Royal Society, 1 you would think that open offices are useful only for visiting misery on those unfortunate enough to work in them. As the narrative goes, open offices are, at best, misguided experiments in social and process engineering and, at worst, exist only so corporations can minimize occupancy costs – with no consideration of worker wellbeing and productivity. It wasn't always so. In fact, one of the earliest exam- ples of the open office is also one of the most celebrated workplaces of the 20th century: Frank Lloyd Wright's SC Johnson headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin, completed in 1939. That space and its Wright-designed predecessor, the Larkin Administration Building, included large expanses of centralized, open office space (designed at the time for secretarial staff). Wright translated an Industrial Age model for administrative work, derived from factories of the time, into an egalitarian, light-filled, and inspiring experience. Both projects proved transformational, promoting the idea that workers are entitled to more than just rudimen- tary support for human needs. In the case of SC Johnson, that meant access to daylight, ample square footage per person, and an architectural scheme that embodied uplift. The headquarters and its open-plan "great workroom" has been in continuous operation for 80 years, even as Open offices were once works of art. They were just ruined by too many bad copies.

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