The History of the Cubicle: a 50th Birthday Retrospective

02As we mentioned in an earlier blog, the cubicle is turning 50 years old in 2014! In that time, the cubicle has become the longstanding symbol, for better or worse, of the corporate working world. Though associated by many with orderliness and efficiency, the cubicle, to some, stands for drudgery and conformity. Here are some highlights from the history of the (in)famous cubicle:

-Robert Propst is credited with creating the cubicle. Interestingly, Propst conceived of what he called the “Action Office” as a workspace that would “liberate” the modern worker. Propst’s vision originally consisted of a large space which blocked out outside distractions, in which a worker could perform multiple tasks at once.

-However, as the “Action Office” proved spendy, unwieldy, and impractical, Propst went back to square one and designed a smaller office with three angled and moveable walls. He called it “Action Office II,” a much more exciting name for what we would now just call a cubicle!

-Currently, about 40 million people in North America work in cubicles on their workdays. The line of thinking that open-space offices are distracting has been influential for decades, and partly explains why lower-level office employees in particular are often relegated to cubicles.

-Cubicles have their fair share of supporters, even today. Some major corporate bigwigs have been so loyal to the cubicle workspace that they have remained in cubicles even after hitting it big! Former Intel CEO Andrew Grove and eBay head Meg Whitman both worked in cubicles while leading their companies, and even former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg used to preside over America’s largest city from a cubicle office!

-However, office design, like many other things, goes through cycles of fashion. The cubicle, though still widely used, is starting to lose some ground in the fashion department to newer, less confining office designs. Open offices are on the rise, though detractors point out that these lack privacy for employees.

-The choice is now and has always been a matter of taste. But cubicles have had a long and productive run in the American workplace, and seem likely to stay around for some time longer. Though cubicles’ supporters remain staunch, the voices of opposition have grown louder each year—as Office Space’s Peter Gibbons famously quipped of the cubicle office, “We don’t have a lot of time on this Earth. We weren’t meant to spend it this way.”

Whether your office planning and design needs involve cubicles or not, Office Space Planners is here and happy to lend a hand. Contact us today or visit our website to find out what we can do for you!

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