The cubicle, a common feature of modern offices, was not designed to be a symbol of corporate monotony. Instead, it was the brainchild of Robert Propst, a designer at the Herman Miller furniture company, who aimed to make workspaces more flexible and humane. His design, Action Office II, was a radical departure from the rigid office layouts of the 60s. It featured flexible, semi-private spaces that could be rearranged to suit individual needs.

However, the design was quickly co-opted by businesses seeking to maximise floor space, leading to the densely packed, impersonal cubicles we know today. The original vision of a flexible, personalised workspace was lost. Propst himself became disillusioned by the misuse of his design, describing it as a “monolithic insanity.”

The cubicle’s history serves as a reminder of the tension between the ideals of workplace design and the realities of corporate cost-cutting. It also raises questions about the future of office spaces, particularly in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has prompted a shift towards remote working and flexible workspaces.

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