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The Spirit in the Cubicle

The Spirit in the Cubicle

A Religious History of the American Office

(p.34) 2 The Spirit in the Cubicle
Consuming Religion
Kathryn Lofton
University of Chicago Press

This chapter thinks about the spiritually hopeful origins of mass-produced commodities. In the annals of modern design, it is difficult to imagine a more spiritless object than that of the office cubicle. Yet its origin is full of spiritual hope. Starting in the 1930s under the direction of Gilbert Rohde, Herman Miller mass-produced modernism through understated furniture designed for living rooms and offices. When George Nelson took over as head of Herman Miller design, the research offices focused on reimagining the organization and circulation of information in professional contexts. An innovative designer named Robert Propst sought to revolutionize the workplace from a place where “workers performed meaningless, cog-turning activities.” His innovation, the so-called “Action Office,” was supposed to counter bleak workplace occupation through a spatial strategy of mobility, mutability, and communal exchange. This chapter describes the utopian hope and subsequent failure of the cubicle to achieve these egalitarian ambitions.

Keywords:   office cubicle, office landscaping, Action Office, Herman Miller, modernism, aesthetics, Robert Propst, utopian communities

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