A Happy History of the Cubicle

If you spend the better part of a forty-hour work week sitting in one, you might think you know a thing or two about cubicles.  You may even have a few choice words you’d use to describe your own cube-shaped home-away-from-home.  Whether you love your classic right-angled workspace or hate it, there are likely still a few tidbits about the history of the cubicle that you may not have heard.

1. Cubicles are the dream of an artist.  You might not consider any cubicle to be very creative, let alone a work of art – but the very first design for the infamous square office module was in fact conceived by a respected artist.  Among other ventures, Professor of Art Robert Propst had patents in the recreation industry, including playground equipment designs.  This same man was also the brains behind the original Action Office – known today as the cubicle.

2.  People were once excited about the cubicle.  When the Action Office was released as an alternative to the existing industrial office floorplan, employees welcomed the predecessor to today’s cubicle with open arms.  In fact, rather than feeling confined or suppressed in these new spaces, workers actually felt liberated from the previous status quo.

3.  Originally, cubicles were not cubes.  Cubicles today are exactly that: cubic.  Missing only a fourth wall and a ceiling, the familiar 4-walled workspaces that we are now accustomed to were at one time an entirely different geometric shape.  The movable interlocking walls that are now almost always 90-degree angles were originally intended to be angled obtusely to form half-hexagonal workspaces.

4.  Cubicles were meant to be customizable.  This is still true of today’s cubicles, but often we forget that our cubicles really are ours to decorate.  Take a look at the walls of your workspace – they are made of some form of corkboard to allow you to personally design your area, better fostering creativity at work.  While many of us take advantage of this, happily tacking up personal photos and interesting clippings, others fail to fulfill the cubicle’s full potential.

It’s common in our workplace culture to love to hate our cubicles, but the square partitions that are now over a half-century old have never meant us any harm.  The original cubicle was meant to free workers from distractions and interruptions; to provide a customizable space to spend your days work; to house our professional and creative flare.  Cubicles today might get a bad rap, but deep down we know we’d be lost without them!


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