The Evolution of the Office Space

Before LEED Certification and rock climbing walls became regular fixtures of today’s workplace, the approach to designing the office was a much different story. With many chapters to its history, Martin Nielsen, an architect and mechanical engineer with DIALOG, shared just how dynamic the evolution of the office has been over the past 80 years.

The Open Concept Office


Image: CNet

“A true disruptor, Frank Lloyd Wright was the first to introduce the open plan concept,” says Nielsen. Prior to the 1950’s, open-plan offices were mostly consisting of rows of desks for clerical work. Arguably one of the best architects of all-time, Wright based design principles on humanity and their environment. Pictured above is the SC Johnson headquarters in 1939, which was designed by Wright. The columns resemble a lily pad and are meant to draw in natural light, creating an airy and spacious outdoor feel.

The Action Office


In 1964, designer Robert Propst was working in the office-furniture firm Herman Miller when he introduced the cubicle: a flexible, semi-enclosed workspace. These were thought to increase productivity, privacy, and maximize efficiency of space. The Action Office design quickly became popular because it was flexible and movable, saving companies money on construction and development costs. Yet despite his intentions, “cubicle farms” grew far from their original purpose, and soon became a dreaded concept for working professionals who were secluded from their peers.

The Googleplex


The emergency of technology has dramatically altered office design to become much more than a place to work, but rather a venue to live and play. Sprawling across 3.1 million square feet, the isolated solar-powered Google headquarters offers endless perks for their employees. This includes soccer fields, tennis and volleyball courts, free campus bikes to get around the facility, valet, public art, and two organic gardens that grow the vegetables and herbs for the restaurants. You can also find nap pods, multiple fitness centers, and massage rooms. This growing trend towards creating a lifestyle rather than just an office space is how many tech companies are attracting staff in the competitive race for talent.

The Satellite Office


WeWorks Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C. (Source)

For entrepreneurs and growing businesses, companies like WeWorks have introduced a collaborative and affordable alternative to the modern office. Typically there are four options to choose from: We Membership, a Hot Desk, a Dedicated Desk, and the Private Office. With prices varying from $45/month to $450, co-working spaces have been emerging in Vancouver over the past few years. This includes HiVE Vancouver, Suite Genius, and The Network Hub, which have become popular office alternatives for startups and freelancers.

Nielsen explains that office space design is a reflection of the culture and values of society, and as Millennials are now the majority of working professionals, companies have to incorporate certain elements into their office design. As this generation values sustainability, work-life balance, and collaboration, we’ve circled back to Wright’s ideas of the open concept in order to become more productive and efficient professionals.

From Hootsuite to MEC, Vancouver has become a hub for innovative office design. Which is your favourite? Tell us why on Twitter: @naiopvancouver.


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