The history of office design.

Office Buildings

The way an office building works has been disrupted and massively changed within the last 100 years, we look at the evolution of the office space.


  • 1900s- The Factory Floor Office Space.

  • 1920s- The Roaring 20’s Office.  

  • 1950s- The Introduction of Open Plan.

  • 1980s- The Cubicle Revolution

  • 1990s- The Virtual Office Revolution

  • 2010- Onwards – The Creative Office Space and the Introduction of Hot Desking and Flexible Space

''The history of an office goes as far back as ancient Rome, where in buildings such as the Tabularium, which contained the Roman Public record office''

The 1900s- The Factory Floor Office Space.

From the 1900s the office space was designed in a similar approach to the assembly line, which focused on minimal space for staff and concentrated on maximising productivity, which in turn caused what would be unholy work conditions in modern day standards, this type of office space was called ‘Taylorism, which is a methodology created by mechanical engineer, Frank Taylor.


The 1920s- The Roaring 20’s Office. 

As the roaring ’20s hit America and most of western Europe, with a focus on entertainment and leisure time, this transferred into the office space with a bigger focus on design elements and more aesthetically pleasing offices, though workers conditions were still an issue, this opened up far more connectivity between staff.


The 1950s- The Introduction of Open Plan

The history of open plan comes from Burolandschaft, which was a German concept, which took the office space from a hierarchy based towards a much more collaboration focused office, the design of an open place space grouped desks in patterns designed to create a much more happier workforce, taking away traditional partitions and allowing open space between employees, many saw this change in design as a political move as the fear of communism spread throughout the western world, it was important to have a more open and collaborative workforce that would stamp out any sign of communist views.


1980- The Cubicle Revolution

The end of the 1970s and into the 1980s brought many social changes into the office life, as a society we were becoming far more fast-paced and a major focus on being productive as much as possible, however, many businesses felt there was a need to bring back some privacy in the office. What transpired was the advent of the cubicle, originally was meant as a way for employees to work in a fast-paced environment, able to communicate with other employees and have a degree of privacy. What transpired, however, was the creation of cube farms and instead of using it for its original purpose, endless floors of cubicles were created to fit as many employees and can be seen as a modern-day assembly line.


The advent of the PC brought far more virtual connectively to the cubicle, taking away any personal connection between workers and into a more zombie type of workforce.  Cubicle furniture was cheap to buy in large amounts because of the lack of personalization and low-priced materials. This type of practice took any sort of creatively from the office life and created entire offices that were virtually indistinguishable.


The 1990s- The Virtual Office Revolution

As the PC revolution was born out of the 1980s, the biggest revolution of the 90s was the development of internet access, this transformed the office space, with far more connectivity between employees compared to the 1980s, software like Microsoft office, email and Instant messaging brought greater connectivity between workers. Rents for offices increased massively down to more business moving into buildings that had greater access to internet services.  Though there was a need for change in how offices where design, with a better focus on personalisation and creatively and a move away from the cubical style of offices.


2010 - Onwards – The Creative Office Space and The Introduction of Hot Desking and Flexible Space

From 2010, the design of an office was transformed into a more colorful and brighter setting. Offices are now a culmination of multiple types of spaces, open plan areas with optimised spaces for breakout and meeting rooms. With business becoming far more flexible and more employees working remotely if they need to, the office space now accommodates workers who can come and go as they please but ensures that they have the facilities to keep them happy and productivity. Offices are now prominent focused on serving the needs of its staff, rather than the employer, all this is done to create a better collaborative and connected workforce, not just in the office but on the go.

As you can see the office space has dramatically changed in the last 100 years, with a focus on the employee and a swift change from the assembly line style of design, it can be said we’ve never had it so good.


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