In the 1950s in Germany the Quickborner team of management consultants developed the radical office layout idea of Bürolandschaft or ‘office-landscape’. This consisted of free and open plans of furniture scattered in large, structurally undivided spaces with mechanically controlled environments. Unlike the American open plan, strategic use of partitions and large plants created some degree of differentiation and privacy. The use of carpets and ceiling absorbing panels tempered the noise of a large office to some degree.
Derived from organisational theory, the rationale of bürolandschaft was based on a more complex scientific ‘model’ of ‘human relations’ rather than Taylorism. For the first time the widely diverse nature of kinds of office work was recognised and the Quickborner team devised criteria for fitting a particular kind of office to a specific type of layout. (see diagram)
The Social Democratic nature of post-war government in many Northern European countries fostered a more egalitarian management approach. The Quickborner team encouraged all ranks of company staff to sit together on one open floor in an attempt to create a non-hierarchical environment that increased communication between people and allowed for future flexibility.
Bürolandschaft enjoyed a brief period of popularity in Europe, especially in Germany, and was picked up in some British offices by the end of the 1960s. Furniture systems such as Herman Miller Action Furniture was developed to adapt the desk to this new office environment and respond to concerns about noise and privacy. Such furniture began to accumulate built-in partitions and storage in an attempt to confer the status of small rooms to each desk in an open plan, in this way undermining the original open and charmingly random quality of Bürolandschaft.
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