Many of us dread the office, even worse, the cubicle. Ironically, the cubicle was originally designed to foster human creativity, increase a new sense of success and vocational vitality. According to Nikil Saval, when Robert Propst created the cubicle in the 60s, he declared: “We are a nation of office dwellers. The face of capitalism had changed; the office had become a ‘thinking place’; ‘the real office consumer was the mind.'” Repetitive work was replaced by knowledge work and the cubicle was born to accommodate such work! By 2000, forty million American white-collar employees were using Propst’s “Action Office”–the cubicle.
Times have changed. Sure, there are still plenty of cubicles but in many cities they are steadily being replaced by coffee shops. Unlike the stifling effects of the cubicle, coffee shops and cafes can stimulate creativity . Caffeine, music, good food, other creative people, open-air workspace, people and culture swirling all around you. The new office is the mobile office, a land of open-air, ever alternating cubicles where creativity teems with the steam of each cappuccino. Richard Florida has argued for a next wave of work, seeing creativity, not knowledge, as new economic driver. He defines creativity as “the creation of useful new forms out of that knowledge,” and writes “in my formulation, ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ are the tools and materials of creativity.
Are we in a creative age? Are cafes the new cubicles? If so, have we reached vocational utopia which all, non-creative work must only aspire to? Or is there a dark side to the new office, a danger in a creative-driven economy? One thing is for sure, firms and office managers are sending freelancers and employees to the cafes with a laugh. Who pays for the expenses? Coffee, internet, space, parking, food, air conditioning, drinks, power? A creative way to make a buck!
See Nikil Saval, “Birth of the Office,” n+1; Richard Florida, Rise of the Creative Class.