The Cube Reconsidered
The Cube Reconsidered

The Cube Reconsidered

A photographic tribute to the lowly cubicle.

January 13 th 2012
The Cube Reconsidered

From "The Office" to Dilbert, the lowly office cubicle is a frequent target of ridicule. It's not difficult to find descriptions of "cube farms" . . .

photo: Jake Sutton
Cube Farm

. . . with modifiers like "soulless" or "dehumanizing." And with drab, colourless cubicles like this one . . .

photo: Ben Lakey
Colourless

. . . this scorn seems well-deserved.

But I want to take a moment to reconsider the cube as a not-that-bad place for knowledge workers to hang their hats.

photo: Catherine
Hats

As Catherine's photo demonstrates, one can personalize a cubicle, at least within the confines of the demountable partitions that define the perimeter of your space. Some take the idea of personalization to an extreme . . .

photo: Jenny Lee
Personalization

. . . while others are content to live with fairly modest marks of their own personality.

photo: Katie Warner
Modest

I have worked in almost every imaginable kind of space, from Herman Miller's inaptly named Action Office to an expensively minimalist system . . .

photo: David Greusel
Minimalist

. . . where my greatest frustration was the lack of wall space for the images that I love to surround myself with. Sadly, many of my colleagues had even less wall space than this. My current workspace . . .

photo: Scott Jones
Current

. . . is a combination of inexpensive tables and a fairly handsome system of Haworth partitions I bought used from the previous occupant of my office space. These partitions (one can hardly call them cubicles) . . .

photo: David Greusel
Partitions

. . . help to create a sense of personal space for my coworkers, while still preserving an open, collaborative work environment.

Which brings me to an important point: The alternative to a cubicle is not a private office. Most knowledge workers will never get a private office, because offices (and their furnishings) are substantially more expensive than cubicles. No, the realistic alternative to the cube farm is much worse:

photo: David Greusel
Desk Farm

The desk farm. Endless rows of desks in a workplace that is truly dystopian. Kind of makes you a bit sentimental for the cube, doesn't it?

Being shown the door is another, even less desirable alternative to the cubicle, one I have experienced myself. For some, sudden cubelessness is the impetus to open a bakery or a dog-walking service; good for them, because they probably always wanted to anyway. But for most, being cubeless can make one wistful for the meagre comforts of an open-plan workstation.

photo: Benjamin Garcia
Open Plan

Not the corner office, exactly, but far better than where much of the world has toiled for much of human history.

Finally, a cubicle can be a place of love, and beauty, and art, as seen here in the former workspace of my friend Becky Pruitt . . .

photo: David Greusel
Treated with Love

From its magnetic poetry to its Polaroid camera collection to its literary wallpaper (look under the storage bin), Becky's cube was a work of art inhabited by a worker. It was more than a cube: it was a place of work—a work place—that both expressed and embodied the humanity of the worker.

Like almost anything else, even a cubicle can flourish if it is treated with love.

David Greusel
 
David Greusel

David Greusel has worked as an architect for more than thirty years with several Midwestern firms of varying sizes. He is founding principal of Convergence Design, a Kansas City-based practice specializing in places where people gather. While with another firm, he was lead designer for two major league ballparks: Minute Maid Park, home of the Houston Astros, and PNC Park, home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 2009, David was named a Fellow in the American Institute of Architects.

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