I work in a box.
Actually, I work in a cinderblock building that was constructed originally to house GIs returning to college after the Second World War. It's since been converted into an office building, though it still maintains many of the trappings of a dormitory. I'm particularly amused by the built-in closets in my office, which have been converted into makeshift bookshelves.
Right now the university is in the midst of tearing down all the buildings in my complex to make way for new high-rise student housing--that is, with the exception of my own. The university's promised to build my department what's called a "generic office building," since we're ostensibly in the way of the looming construction project.
Our current building is configured in such a way that all rooms are pretty much discrete. Each of the faculty has a private, enclosed office with one to two windows that open toward the outside. The classrooms--what few we have--are all self contained. Judging by the name, I suspect that our proposed "generic office building" will reflect a similar architectural disposition.
In some ways, I like my existing building. There's plenty of privacy, and I happen to have a corner office. By the same token, a conversation with a friend of mine in computer science reminded me of just how much difference office space can make when it comes to fostering a certain kind of work environment. He described a lab to me in which seminar spaces are open, as are most of the offices. Conference rooms all have windows facing both the interior and the exterior of the building, which further helps to engender a sense of openness. As a whole, the lab's designed to encourage spontaneous, collegial interactions and to foster the culture of collaboration that's typical in computer science.
I wonder if a similar kind of floor plan would be appropriate to a humanities-based department like mine. Indeed, I've always been struck by the humanities' critique of individualism, a critique that doesn't really get reflected in our work, the vast majority of which consists of single-authored articles and books. Could changing our architecture help foster a more collaborative humanities, one that better practices what it preaches?