Cubed - Nikil Saval

May 25, 2014

Nikil Saval talks with Anne Strainchamps about his book, "Cubed: A Secret History of the Workplace." 



I've worked in cubicle spaces for thirty-five years. This has been punctuated by having a workspace in a shared space for a year or so and one or two years in a single-occupant private office for another two years. By FAR, the cubicle arrangement is superior.

In the early '80s, while working in a two-person cube space, I spent several months working remotely among engineers at Douglas Aircraft in Long Beach, California. Unlike me in my regular workspace in the Santa Clara Valley, with its quiet, semi-private and environmentally comfortable aspect, these fellas worked at row after row of desks on the floor of a sweltering aircraft hanger, hundreds of them surrounded by a handful of un-air-conditioned conference rooms. I was SURE GLAD to return to my humble desk. In a cubical.

People who cluck their tongues at the "drones" doomed to toil away in such environments they imagine to be so homely and oppressive generally have aspirations involved in the pursuits represented by the Schools of Communication from which they've hailed - by Public Relations, Marketing, Advertising, Sales - and the scabby poor relation of these parasitical rackets, journalism.

I love how the history of the "cubicle concept" began in Germany after the war. I live and work in Germany now, and the irony is that the cube farm is a foreign concept here, and most Germans look with horror at the American working style. Here, it's the law that all workers must have access to windows/window light, which makes for very interesting building design. It's very common to have larger office rooms that are shared with 1-5 people, which make for a nice working environment. In more traditional German offices, all the doors are kept closed and you must knock when entering, but that model is slowly dying. After working here, I hope I never have to return to the American style of working! ;-)