But non-professors do not get separate offices. The two photos below show a portion of a long hall in the building. On one side are the professor’s offices. The first one shows a section of the long other side, which was initially not broken by a barrier. The architect’s drawings showed this side with tables which included electric outlets for computers and Ph.D. students sitting in the chairs facing the wall across from the professor supervising their work. The architects perhaps did not realize that Ph.D. students need their own turf and quiet to do their work, that professors are seldom in their offices, and that sitting in rows facing the wall is associated with such things as military basic training and wearing dunce caps.
The second photo shows the end of this wall where one of our administrators has frantically attempted to get some quiet and privacy to do her work by erecting various temporary screens.
The third photo was taken in a new building that functions as the headquarters of the Engineering School. It also shows a workspace for Ph.D. students. This time they do not have to sit in rows facing the wall, but they have little room to store material, are on display behind glass to people passing down the hall, have limited space to lock up such things as computers and peripheral equipment, and would have to be disciplined enough to do their difficult work in the midst of a large group of people. But being bright (they are after all Ph.D. students), they solve these problems by doing their work in their dorm rooms or homes.
The last of the photos is the domain of Tim Keely, a good friend of mine , who is an outstanding IT manager in the school. As part of this he typically has a large amount of computer equipment on which he is working —but no office space, because he is not a professor. He works crammed in a niche in the corner of the Ph.D. space, and worries about who will steal what equipment. But he at least has a niche. Unfortunately, he is about to be moved into an “open office” with the other administrators in the department. He is not happy.
I believe in cross disciplinary workand lots of interaction, but not at the expense of a closable space of one’s own in which to work and keep all of the material necessary to do that work. Open space to meet is fine when it helps accomplish the goal, but not for all people and not for all of the time. And woe be unto you, should you be good at computers and in an open office, since you will spend all of your time with the line of your office partners at your desk seeking your help.
Even though they are cheaper, and these days there is much attraction to the “interaction” component, the open-office fad will pass. There is ever-increasing negative feelings about such space at Stanford and elsewhere. There was an amusing tirade in the Jobs section of the September 20th New York times written by Phyllis Korkky, entitled "Modern Offices, Chock-Full of Offenses". It is here. It draws from personal opinion, and also Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, who has written a book with her son that apparently contains observations bemoaning the loss of traditional offices— “Walls and doors can no longer protect workers from unwanted visits, along with various odors, shouts, coughs, sneezes, popping of gum, belching and spitting” (Stanford people, of course, do not belch and spit — but I admit I do pay a lot of unasked for visits to people). As another quote, “Forget all this business about making everybody love everybody else, It is taking up time that could be spent getting work done, and it’s a drain on people’s finances and personal lives”.
Happily over time all of this carefully architected glass, steel. And concrete space at Stanford will be humanized by its occupants, despite the efforts of the building managers and walls that resist hanging up exciting, entertaining, and even useful material.