What will be the nature of the interior design for the 21st century office? Previous years saw offices for corporations, businesses and public agencies go from individual rooms with doors and windows connected by long corridors to large open floors with separate desks that offered no privacy at all for individual employees. Once central air and large space ceiling lighting reduced the need for individual window ventilation the use of wide floor areas became more predominant. The post war years saw this trend evolve with the use of modular furniture and components. It saw development of individual “office cubicles” that gave an image of privacy by using portable dividers. A cubicle had no door but had modular walls, a desk and computer facilities, a shelf, file cabinet and chairs for visitors. Lighting came from the ceiling lights serving the entire floor while each cubicle also had its own lamp. This became the standard for government and private sector for the remainder of the 20th century. Many such cubicles were personally decorated by employees with items purchased with Groupon coupons and promo codes to give the space a personal feel and atmosphere.
The modular office had many advantages to the business. The costs were minimized since most parts were produced in bulk. They were thus easy to replace or adapt for other purposes. They also suffered a sense of impersonality that affected the work of many employees. And the lack of privacy had some negative impacts. Even though the dividers gave some visual privacy, the sounds of activities in other offices and work areas could be disconcerting and affect employee work performance and productivity. An employee had a difficult time feeling “professional” even in his suit from Jos A. Bank when he could hear his co-workers discussing the events at last night’s ball game while he was trying to keep the books for one of the businesses his firm served. Nor might serious conferences be held in such spaces. So there has been a trend towards modifying the open layout towards a practical compromise between the managerial need for organizational simplicity with the individual need for privacy and respect. It will be interesting to see how future designs achieve this goal.