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The Evolution of Office Space And Attitudes Toward Work

February 10, 2014

Historic image of two ladies working in the office

Building 41, located on The Denver Federal Center, was originally constructed in 1941 as part of an ammunitions plant. Over the years, this building has slowly been upgraded to office and warehouse space. Since the early 1900s, office designs have cycled through competing demands: openness vs. privacy, interaction vs. autonomy. As office space design concepts in the private sector begin to shift, Building 41 has always stayed ahead of the curve. Here are some photos to help you see the office space changes over the years.

Building 41 has had several remarkable transformations over the past 63 years. Most recently, GSA's space has seen a transition to a workspace that fosters a mobile work environment. Within GSA space, there are many examples of shared spaces and meeting rooms for all GSA employees to utilize. In addition, employees work in an open floor plan with mobile workstations, allowing for maximum collaboration. The wireless network in the building allows associates to work from anywhere.

This evolution took place to reflect the changing attitudes towards work. Here's a brief history of how seating arrangements have reflected our changing attitudes toward work.

  1. Taylorism (1904): American engineer Frederick Taylor was obsessed with efficiency and oversight and is credited as one of the first people to actually design an office space. Taylor crowded workers together in a completely open environment, while bosses looked on from private offices, much like on a factory floor.
  2. Burolandschaft (ca. 1960): The German "office landscape" brought the socialist values of 1950s Europe to the workplace: Management was no longer cosseted in executive suites. Local arrangements might vary by function—side-by-side workstations for clerks or pinwheel arrangements for designers, to make chatting easier—but the layout stayed undivided.
  3. Action Office (1968): Bürolandschaft inspired Herman Miller to create a product based on the new European workplace philosophy. Action was the first modular business furniture system, with low dividers and flexible work surfaces. It's still in production today and widely used. In fact, you probably know Action by its generic, more sinister name: cubicle.
  4. Cube Farm (ca.1980): It's the cubicle concept taken to the extreme. As the ranks of middle managers swelled, a new class of employee was created: too important for a mere desk but too junior for a window seat. Facilities managers accommodated them in the cheapest way possible, with modular walls. The sea of cubicles was born.
  5. Networking (Present): During the past decade, furniture designers have tried to part the sea of cubicles and encourage sociability—without going nuts. Knoll, for example, created systems with movable, semi-enclosed pods and connected desks whose shape separates work areas in lieu of dividers. Most recently, Vitra unveiled furniture in which privacy is suggested if not realized. Its large tables have low dividers that cordon off personal space but won't guard personal calls.

Wired. Evolution of Office Spaces Reflects Changing Attitudes Toward Work. Cliff Kuang. April 2009.

Last Reviewed: 2021-12-29