The Secret Blessings of Close Quarters

    The current Guardian office comprises a fairly large space in the Old Student Center. Step in, and you’ll be looking down a long hallway with offices lining both walls. Our most valued object is the water cooler. Our main room is usually deserted, since most people are in their offices, doors closed. I have spent the past three years trying not to think about what happens behind these doors.

    According to science writer Jonah Lehrer, this type of arrangement is optimally non-conducive to the functionality of a collaborative organization. The most important features of saidspace are horizontal design, collaboration and easy access.

    Take the example of Building 20, the poorly designed MIT structure that became the starting point for some of the world’s biggest ideas. Building 20 was a miserable place: bad design, extreme temperatures, terrible lighting and it violated the fire code. Someone trying to find Department A had to walk through the entire building, bumping into people from other departments, before reaching the destination. 

    Subsequently, MIT administration stuck the random and less prestigious people there, including everything from a piano repair facility to, ahem, the linguistics department. The people stuck there retaliated by customizing the space, tearing down walls and bolting equipment to the roof.  And because of this — forcing people to rub elbows, letting them design their own workspace — the unwanted structure furthered developments in military radar,  and was the birthplace of both Noam Chomsky’s “universal grammar” theory of linguistics and Bose speakers. 

    Granted, our staff has more in common with each other than  do piano repairmen and Noam Chomsky. Granted, we’ve been preemptively mourning the end of individual offices for the past three weeks. But come Spring Quarter when we’re all crowded around pods in a giant room, I expect great things. I expect the birth of a new kind of linguistics. I expect cross-section collaboration. At the very least, I expect to know exactly where everyone is. 

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