[Johnson Wax Headquarters\' Great Workroom.]

In a 2006 article on the decline of the cubicle, Julie Schlosser, reminds us of Robert Propst's earnest regret at having invented the cubicled workspace. Propst, just before his death in 2000, called the modern cubicled office "monolithic insanity."

David Franz in the New Atlantis picks up on this critique citing the quick steady decline of the cubicle from its social utopian origins. Franz writes: “The cubicle, once a cutting edge statement of corporate identity, has become an embarrassment, even for its makers.” Maybe it was simply that utopia was not for those that worked in the cubicles but more for those that supervised those that worked in the cubicles. From the outside, it looked as though everyone had their piece of the office, yet the openness of it meant that they were unified. It is a human hive. Linked together yet each worker maintains some perceived privacy.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Johnson Wax Headquarters (1936-39) presents a central space containing a sea of secretaries while administrators occupied the mezzanine level. Preceding the cubicle by about 15 years, the Johnson Wax space was called the “Great Workroom.” The furniture was manufactured by Steelcase Inc, who would later rise to be a major manufacturer alongside Hermann Miller of cubicles.

[Steelcase Inc\'s Topo workspace.]
[Steelcase Inc\'s Topo workspace.]

The cubicle today maintains a consistent place in interior urbanism. Manufacturers downplay its hermetic quality by asserting a more perforated enclosure.

[Tati\'s Playtime, where M Hulot confronts the labyrinth of cubiclopia.]

Jacques Tati’s Playtime riffed on the disorienting qualities of the modern workplace of the 1960s.


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