Gerard Condon's Blog

Journal of a software developer.

Open Plan Offices and High Tech Architecture

Jeremy Paxman recently wrote an article criticising open plan offices. They have been a bugbear of mine for a while also. My working life has been spent in open offices or cubicles (never hot desking thank God) and they’re terrible compared to proper offices. Background noise, air-con issues, lack of privacy and personal space are just some of the issues.

Paxman’s article put me in mind of a TV series which featured a lot of open plan offices. This was the Brits who Built the Modern World series on the BBC which detailed the work of the architects such as Norman Foster and Richard Rogers, who were the pioneers of High Tech Architecture. It’s an excellent series and I highly recommend it. The buildings shown typically had a fantastic exterior with really distinctive features. I was really impressed with the level of quality and inventiveness that went into these structures.

However the interiors of these buildings were typically vast open office spaces. The inventiveness that characterized the outsides, had completely vanished when it came to fitting out the inside. Bog-standard, modular office furniture. was the norm. One of the best examples was Norman Foster’s Willis Building in Ipswich. This has a stunning exterior of dark glass panels and a rooftop garden, all combined with a soul-destroying, open plan interior.

The really odd thing for me was that the architects really bought into the open office ideals. They truly thought that this was the best way to design a workplace. I would have loved to have seen what they could have done, if they had put the effort in to design proper working spaces which combined private, focused space along with collaborative areas. They thought they were designing workplaces which were more efficient and collaborative, but to my mind all they succeeded in doing was creating an environment where everyone is distracted and disrupted most the time. It’s a real pity and a waste of their talents.

PS Let’s hope no-one ever interviewing me for a job in an open plan office reads this :)