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Most talk of work these days revolves around the latest unemployment figures, the difficulties of getting and/or holding onto a job and/or how we are all working more hours for less money and less vacation time, or the bleak prospects for newly minted college grads (starkly rendered by cartoonist Jenna Brager in the new anthology “Share or Die: Youth in Recession.”)
Jenna Brager at shareable.net/users/jennabee/Cubicle innovation is the least of this job-seeker’s worries.
At the end of his life, Robert Propst, creator of the cubicle system, called his invention “monolithic insanity,” yet we seem unable to tread down any other path. Longstanding calls for the Redesign of the Cubicle continue, in recent articles like “Designs to Make You Work Harder,” a roundup of “new” approaches to office design in The Wall Street Journal, and, in Fast Company, “Redesigning: Cubicles,” the goal of which was to “upgrade the corporate killjoy.” The topics seemed disconcertingly out of touch. Apart from maybe generating a little business for the contract furniture industry, what was the point? A bigger re-think of the world of work seems to be in order.
Just about any story on this subject in the last decade has featured pleasant if not wholly original ideas like bringing more natural light into spaces, playing with organic, softer forms and incorporating homey elements like Oriental rugs, plants and personal photographs. But every idea has remained firmly entrenched in existing workspace typologies — the cubicle, the corner office — and ignored entirely the growing legions who work in different ways or in different settings (if they’re able to find work at all).
In 2009, the entrepreneur/designer Nathan Shedroff published a book called “Design is the Problem: The Future of Design Must Be Sustainable.” His provocative title was meant to inspire conversation about sustainability, but I’ll borrow it here as a means of generating some more creative thinking...