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Not only the way people work has evolved in the last 50 years but also the way the office spaces look. Nowadays, people can use their laptops, tablets, and phones to improve their work productivity. If it is a Wi-Fi connection, then they will have no issues in respecting the deadline of their project. But, it is important to note that office design changed together with the evolution of the office culture.

Nowadays, the focus is on building workplaces that increase the work productivity and allow individuals to be productive both when working on their own, or when working in teams. However, in order to better understand how office space evolved, it is important to check its history, a history lesson very few people know.

The first office design

Pieces of evidence show that the first office space dated back the ancient Rome, it had the form of a common workplace, where the persons who conducted official work spent their time. Similar spaces existed throughout the time, but the first building built with the purpose to serve as an office building was constructed in the 18th century. In the 18th century, the British Empire was in full expansion, and the trade industry was growing, therefore, the need for an office space was growing. To meet this need, the first office building was constructed in London in 1726, and it was named The Old Admiral Office. It was built with the purpose to handle the paperwork generated by the Royal Navy and to host meetings. The Admiralty Board Room is still used nowadays for the same purpose. In order to preserve the original design of the building, when it was rehabilitated, a UK decorative glass manufacturer was hired to provide the glass accessories.

After the construction of this site was completed, multiple other offices were built throughout London. They included separate rooms for intellectual work, and common rooms for mechanical work.

The open plan office design

During the early modern period, the office spaces were constructed as open space, where multiple rows of desks were installed, and managers, who could easily observe what they were doing, supervised the workers. During the 20th century, this type of office was highly appreciated, because it was built according to the principles of Taylorism. But, lately, this type of office layout was highly criticised, because it did not take into consideration the social and human elements. It was only focused on gaining maximum productivity.

This was the period when large skyscrapers have started to appear worldwide and companies have started to rent or buy office spaces to accommodate their employees. It was an architectural phenomenon facilitated by the invention of the telegraph system, the air conditioning system and the electric lighting. These tall buildings influenced the birth of the lift. Steel framed constructions were a hot trend, and the office design industry knew a new evolution.

A mix between open plan office and private spaces

As the buildings were taller and the commercial buildings larger, the office space became more spacious, and it featured a mixed area. It included private offices, common spaces, rooms dedicated to machines, a canteen and a staff kitchen. Frank Lloyd Wright designed the open-plan office of the Johnson Wax company, and it focused on how he could build the space to increase the workers’ productivity. He added new elements, like cork ceilings, bright lights, and warm spaces. The companies have started to focus on creating office buildings that reflected their brand image, because they had to differentiate from their competitors. The new office designs reflected masculinity and strength, because they were built during a period when the World War II and the great depression happened.

The Burolandschaft office design

Starting with 1960 the design of the office spaces has started to change, because the architects focused on aspects like human interaction and a socially democratic layout. These office spaces were enhancing human engagements. The Burolandschaft design promoted a space that promoted teamwork. When a space had to be separated from the others, plants were used to set a limit.

The action office design

The next evolution step of the Burolandschaft office was the action space. It offered workers higher freedom of movements, the space was customised according to the work needs of the staff and it offered individuals the privacy they needed. Modular furniture was used to decorate the spaces, but also to help people improve their efficiency, because all their tasks were at their hand. The employees had a large workstation and meeting rooms were created with the purpose to facilitate interaction.

The cubicle design

The cubicle office design was adopted because workers needed to focus on their tasks, and modular walls were a cheap option to create separate spaces. The cubicle offices offered employees the impression that they were trapped inside giant walls, and companies were forced to look for more human centred solutions.

The present office design

The solution came from technology. Its evolution implied workers to be more flexible and active at the office. Because the employees are mobile, they can work everywhere, therefore they spend less time at the desk. Companies have started to design their office to look more like cafes, their employees do not have an allocated place, they can decide where they want to work. If they have to create separate spaces, they use decorative glass, because it comes with multiple benefits. It enhances the aesthetics of the space and it makes the office look larger. The professionals from Proto Glass Studios state that the present offices are built to enhance creativity, and they are more colourful and less formal than the ones from the last decade.        

The present office design takes its inspiration from people’s homes; it counts on warm colours, open spaces, soft seating and intimate lighting. The focus is on the wellbeing and comfort of the workers, and many companies use their office buildings as an advantage to attract talented candidates.

It is difficult to predict how the office design will evolve, but the present tendencies show that the focus will be on spaces that protect the environment and help people establish a connection with nature.