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Office Design Layout: A Timeline

As we draw closer to the end of 2016 (and what a year it has been), we are interested in what trends are likely to take off in 2017, sparking a conversation with our MD. The conversation soon developed into us all discussing what the “trends” were in relation to office layout designs, back in the day when they first became involved in the office interior industry.

“The open plan revolution was mainly driven by technology. Cellular offices weren’t geared up to provide all the data and cabling so it was cheaper to fit out a big open space than a lot of smaller ones.”

Office Timeline Process

The evolving technology that we all depend on these days seems to be the main contributing factor for the change in the office environment “set up”. Despite technology getting smaller, there appears to be more of it, which has adapted the office into an “open office space” that is now a popular choice.

Always keen to know more, we have looked into this further. Throughout our research, we came across a fantastic article called the “Human Spaces Report” by Professor Sir Cary Cooper. This outlines the interior design patterns and what the trends’ influences were through the years. Using this as our “foundation”, we found the following information:

1900s – Steeled for a Revolution

Using the “Larkin Administration Building” as an example, Cooper explains that throughout the early 1900s, the “Steel Girder” was the main factor for creating the “open office” that became the favourable office design choice during this period. The revolutionary construction technique allowed for larger spaces to be built and utilised.

“Primitive office layouts were straight, linear and heavily influenced by the manufacturing industry.”

Open Plan Office 1900s

Open Workplace Design” mentions that Frederick Taylor is “credited with being one of the first people to design an open space”. Taylor’s design soon became the favoured technique throughout the early 1900s. The layout involved had an open space where workers were gathered together and was overlooked by separate management offices on higher floors.

1960s – “Bürolandschaft” and the Dawn of the Office Landscapes

The open office concept was implemented and favoured up until the mid-1900s. The concept was created by architects and designers who were trying to “make the World a better place”. However the idea of such a set up changed into the 1960s and the idea of having workstations as “cubicles” was introduced to “put some soul back in”… The idea of Bürolandschaft (translation: Office Landscape) was born.

German design group “Quickborner” introduced partitions for privacy within the office. I am assuming this is where the German term comes from! “Herman Miller” began to sell modular components in 1968, following the popular trend. The idea of having the department groups together became a favoured choice of design as it was thought that the clusters would encourage an organisation within certain settings.

1980s – Into the Box

During the 1980s, the notion of having higher levels of privacy in the office went further again and each individual was given their own “cubicle” to work in. The “Into the Box” movement became a widespread choice, particularly in the US.

Dubbed the “Cubicle Farm” by “Morgan Lovell”, it is thought the idea was born “out of the reality that human resource departments, supervisors, senior managers and directors were less interested in the well-being of their workers than they were in their profitability”.

Office Clusters 1980s

It certainly wasn’t a popular choice with employees, who soon began to feel a sense of isolation, which in turn diminished their productivity and team morale.

2000s – Coffee Shops & Fun

Jumping into the Millennium, the idea of “not needing to be in the office” became a reality. The increase in wireless technologies' availablility meant staff were able to work either at home or at other locations, such as cafés, away from the office.

“The vast technological advances of the previous 2 decades have finally allowed for virtual and hot desking to come into their own, all in all allowing for a much friendlier office environment.”

Keeping the idea that workers were happier working away from the office, designers began to create office spaces that felt “homely”. They were keen to produce an environment that employees would want to work in, ensuring that they could “be themselves and thus allowing their creative juices to flow”.

2010s – Biophilia and Collaboration

In the last couple of years, designers of office space have been extending the idea of “fun and play”. With the Planet’s welfare being a big topic over recent years, designers have been keen to incorporate elements of nature with human activity (biophilia) to encourage “well-being and collective problem solving”, creating a happy and productive workspace.

“Developments in modern office design is that layout is no longer designed with the employer in mind, instead the needs of the employee are paramount.”

A more “casual” approach towards office design is the current theme. There has been an emergence of breakout seating areas for meeting spaces and acoustic pods for confidentiality and quiet, peaceful areas.

Office Design 2010

“High performance is becoming synonymous with environments that are well connected with nature and allow us to connect with each other.”

The “open” working space seems to have made a comeback. It encourages a friendly atmosphere amongst employers and employees, boosting morale and productivity. It’s almost like the design of office spaces has gone full circle! What design trends will follow in the future? Let us know what you think in the comments below! 

Images via: 

Planetclaire / Lapsed Historian / Arkitekwiki / Andrewarchy

Posted by: Michael Hurd

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