What It’s Like to Work in the Office Cubicle of the Future

United States Institute of Peace
Architects continually reshape our city skylines with towering glass-and-concrete structures. They re-imagine everything from the shape of the building to ways it can be more environmentally friendly.

But while architects have been inspired to modernize the exterior of office buildings over the years, the interiors have remained largely unchanged: cubicles surrounded by executive offices and conference rooms.

Unless you’re an executive or spend a lot of time in a conference room, chances are you won’t have much access to a window. Your days will be spent laboring under harsh fluorescent lighting while listening to the drone of the air conditioner.

Some architects are working to change that image, though.

In a column on TheAwl.com, writer Leah Caldwell talks about working at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., which was designed by visionary Israeli architect Moshe Safdie.

Safdie is best known for Habitat 67, which brought a revolutionary vision for modern housing to the 1967 International and Universal Exposition in Montreal. While today’s apartment buildings don’t resemble the 354 stacked concrete cubes Safdie created, many of the principles he incorporated in the building: multi-view windows and gardens are still considered an ideal in cities.

According to Caldwell, when the famed architect was charged with designing the home for the U.S. Institute of Peace, his inspiration was (surprise, surprise) peace itself.

United_States_Institute_of_Peace_New_Headquarters_05_thumb

In fact, the whole five-story building was designed to be a symbol of peace,  with an abstract white dove flying over the building. Two tall glass atriums, or great halls, further illustrate the theme of peace, said Richard Solomon, president of the institute.

“The design of the new building embodies the open, transparent and inclusionary nature of peacebuilding,” Solomon said in a press release. “It expresses the aspiration of creating a more peaceful world, and our work is designed to fulfill that goal.”

While Safdie acknowledges that most office buildings are glittering on the outside and gloomy on the inside, he only somewhat veered from the traditional design of the interior space.

He envisioned natural light and open spaces for everyone in the office — from CEOs to secretaries. Caldwell writes that the office is pleasant (she can see windows), but that the basic design is largely the same as many other modern offices: Cubicles surrounded by offices.

It looks like even a visionary and accomplished architect has been unable to truly challenge the conventions of a modern office.

According to a Wall Street Journal article, psychology is starting to play a larger role in how offices are designed. And as researchers confirm that factors like windows, natural light and high ceilings have a positive affect on worker satisfaction and productivity, maybe more companies will take note making Safdie’s vision a reality.

Exterior photo courtesy of Bar Photography on Flickr
Interior photo courtesy of Dexigner.com

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