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Designed For Work

July 21, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 29

“Open-Plan Era” is a balanced presentation of a currently fashionable design for research facilities (C&EN, May 19, page 20).

The potential problems in fire safety, chemical safety, and biological safety are mentioned. Corporate managers, who do not have to work in such facilities, like the open floor plan because it makes the HVAC systems cheaper to build and operate.

Susan Cain is ascribed as saying in her book that introverts do not work well in noisy, open environments. There is evidence that many, if not most, creative people fit in the “introverts” grouping of the Myers-Briggs personality assessment. It might be instructive to see what the rate of production of inventions and patents is in open- versus closed-plan research buildings.

I suspect that, over the long term, the open plans would produce fewer and less valuable patents. Microsoft recognized that at least 30 years ago, designing its office facilities for software writers with doors that closed—so the programmers could think.

It was almost comical to read about Google’s facilities. It is wrong to portray all millennials as espresso addicts with MP3 players permanently screwed into their ears and with a strong herd instinct. However, the type does exist, and Google seems to be deliberately recruiting that group. Teamwork and collaboration are important, but so is individual thought. The late science-fiction writer Robert Heinlein defined a committee as “a creature with three or more legs and no brain.” The National Aeronautics & Space Administration put it similarly: “None of us is as dumb as all of us.”

James M. Castro
Helena, Mont.



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