Dismantling the Cubicle
August 24, 2011
Film stills courtesy of the filmmaker
With 38 days left for our World’s Coolest Offices competition, we have been in a fever for innovative workplaces from around the globe. We were beginning to wonder if gaming tables and centerpiece furniture were fast on their way to becoming office design standards. However, a recent project by filmmaker Zaheed Mawani has brought us back to a grim reality. “Three Walls” is Mawani’s documented investigation of the life and times of the office cubicle. Click to explore the deeper issues behind one of the most banal yet potent architectural elements today.
While working for Herman Miller in the 1960’s, Robert Propst invented the concept of the cubicle as a way to “give knowledge workers a more flexible, fluid environment than the rat-maze box of offices.” The system was in fact designed to encourage interaction amongst workers. However, Propst had already admitted back in 1998 that the cubicle system had often been misused, as “not all organizations are intelligent and progressive.”
“Three Walls” is a close examination of the cubicle and what it has come to represent. In the film, Mawani speaks with individuals in the white-collar work world and gathers insight from architects and furniture designers on this ubiquitous office model and its psychological effects.
Placing his subjects in composed, static frames, the filmmaker takes a lighthearted yet poignant look at an unhealthy office culture and its architectural symbol. The cubicle, as Mawani explains, has colonized a culture of bored, even despairing workers with no job security. The lack of autonomy is physically manifest in the cubicle system, and this symbolic structure points to larger issues, such as the lack of physicality in our work, a damaging relationship with technology, and a general detachment from what we do with most of our adult lives.
While Herman Miller continues to sell cubicles today, the furniture giant has recognized that today’s work world necessitates space for collaborative work, for frequent interactions between two or more individuals. So how should we escape the “tyranny of the cube”? Herman Miller’s executive design director Ben Watson explained one solution: the creation of a mixture of “microenvironments” that should be more appealing as a workstation than one’s home or the nearby Starbucks.
Check out a trailer of the film above, and vocalize your take on the three walls by submitting projects and ideas to our World’s Coolest Offices competition!
[via the New York Times]