Cubed by Nikil Saval

Weaves together a history of the architecture, interior design, politics, and sociology of the office, from its rise in the countinghouses of the 19th century to the co-working spaces of the present. Made me want to re-watch Mad Men, this time to appreciate all the historical detail in the architecture and furniture that I missed before.

Out of the many things I learned from this book, three surprised me the most:

  • Human Resources as a discipline was invented by Lillian Gilbreth, the wife of the couple Cheaper by the Dozen was based on. It’s original name was Personnel Management, and it was based on the efficient workplace theories of Frederick Taylor.
  • The Larkin Building in Buffalo, NY, one of the first office buildings designed by Frank Lloyd Wright (in 1904), set all the precedents for Google’s offices a hundred years later: rec areas, open floor plans, libraries, and outdoor spaces for employee relaxation.
  • The cubicle farm came out of a 1968 design that was intended by its inventor (Robert Propst) to be a more flexible, individualized, office. In seeking to make something more human than the offices of the past, he inadvertently created the inhuman office of the future.