Personally, I don’t believe in open plan offices. People need to be able focus to work and deliver good quality. But did you know that one of the first open plan offices was built in 1939 and was actually quite brilliant? The American architect Frank Lloyd Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment. That is why he designed The Johnson Wax offices as a forest open to the sky. A beautiful place I would love to work!
Open plan offices
Most of us believe that the open plan office is a new concept, designed by hipster architects to fit more people into an office building and spend less money on building materials. And basically make more money per square meter.
The open plan office kills interaction because people put on headphones and close themselves off to be able to focus
Of course the story they tell us is that the open plan offices help us to interact with our colleagues and be more creative. Which I believe is nonsense. It kills interaction because people put on headphones and close themselves off to be able to focus. It also kills creativity, because in order to be creative you need to be able to concentrate and let your thoughts flow freely. Also, before the open plan offices, lack of interaction and creativity was never an issue.
But did you know that the first open plan office was built in 1939 and was actually quite brilliant? And that the main reason we hate our current open plan offices is because they are just bad copies of the ‘original’. Over the years the idea went from a thoughtful design to an overrated bullpen.
Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was an American architect who designed more than 1,000 structures. Wright believed in designing structures that were in harmony with humanity and its environment, a philosophy he called organic architecture. Nature inspired offices usually work well. That is why he designed the Johnson Wax offices as a forest open to the sky.
Others say the columns resemble lily pads, mushrooms or even golf tees
The building was completed between 1936 and 1939 in Racine, Wisconsin. It provided the main office for SC Johnson & Son, an American manufacturer of household cleaning supplies. Despite its location on an industrial park, Wright designed the building in his organic architecture style with references to natural forms. The main open-plan office space is often described as forest-like. Some people describe it as a modern cathedral. Others say the columns resemble lily pads, mushrooms or even golf tees.
Throughout the “Great Workroom,” a series of the thin, white columns rise to spread out at the top, forming a ceiling. The spaces in between the circles are set with skylights made of Pyrex glass tubing.
Even though it probably has similar disadvantages as our modern open plan offices, I would love to work in that beautiful place. Wright’s plan was to create a light-filled, collective workspace that blocked views of the surrounding industrial landscape and created a holistic workspace. Daylight usually has a very positive impact on productivity.
To block views but allow in sunlight, Wright experimented with a variety of solution before settling on Pyrex tubes. By setting a slanted series of glass piping above the workers, Wright created a sun-lit space that, through distorted, made the forest of columns seem even more fantastical, self-contained and organic.
Even though the Johnson Wax building is beautiful and revolutionary, it also had some practical problems. After a while the roofs started leaking and needed renovation. The famous chair with three legs Frank designed was not perfect either. People used to fall down when they tried to sit on it.
Still, the building is a great source of inspiration. Let’s combine Frank Lloyd Wright’s passion for organic architecture with modern open plan office design and create some truly beautiful nature designed offices to work in!