No windows thumbnail

Why no windows?

The design of later phases of Arlington Centre (post-Building-2) sometimes prompted the question, “Why an office facility with windowless offices?” This 8 September 1980 essay from Wandel & Schnell, Architects, responded to that question.

The Function of the Workspace

The tasks performed in the proposed office facility are perceived to be generally technical in nature, but requiring thought processes in the creative as well as communicative disciplines. The individual function of analyzing and developing problem solutions does need a workspace with appropriate levels of privacy, however, the exchange of ideas and communication among individuals is equally as important. These areas of concentration and areas of interchange are the basic contents of this office's working environment. The communication process will occur in any area from the most private office to the most public circulation space within the facility. People, working with people, produce in any viable industry, a condition of constant change in workspace requirements. The accommodation of this one important aspect termed flexibility, has profound implications on the overall planning of a functioning office facility.


Even the Bonobos get a window to watch the humans in the zoo.

Planning Concepts

As we see the present state of the art of office planning, there exist two quite divergent philosophical approaches in attempting to design working environments that will satisfy the needs of the users. On one hand, there are totally open systems of planning that use only screen partitions and moveable furniture to define various work stations. And on the opposite hand, there are the totally closed systems of private offices with ceiling height enclosures all joined together with interior circulation corridors.

We consider the planning concepts of the proposed facility at Arlington Centre a synthesis of both open and closed planning principles. This plan envisions both private enclosed workspaces as well as larger more open areas containing multiple work stations. And within limitation, the building's mechanical and support systems are arranged in such a manner to accomodate change as the future may dictate.

A major consideration in designing workspace interiors is the manner in which natural light and views to the exterior are introduced into the enclosed environment. Again, conceptual approaches in dealing with this condition will vary substantially. The plan that embraces the open concept will produce the greatest amount of casual awareness to the outside world for most work stations. However, inherently, the open system will produce work stations in which privacy, an essential commodity, is most difficult and virtually impossible to achieve.

Another system of planning organizes enclosed private work stations along all available exterior walls. This approach provides certain work areas with the opportunity to have a window, but the vast majority of any remaining private workspaces, must, by general building limitations, be interior rooms. In using this planning principle, the majority of the working staff have very little exposure to outside natural light resulting from required interior corridors which are devoid of exterior openings.

The planning concept in the proposed facility at Arlington Centre deals with the strong desire to create a sense of openness within the total environment, while at the same time, provide a required number of areas with the necessary enclosure for privacy. The introduction of natural light and exterior views by the placement of large glass areas along the circulation passages and in proximity to the larger multiple occupant workspaces offers visual stimulation, equally to all personnel, without interference in the high levels of task concentration required in private offices.

Broken windows

On the other hand, windows have their downsides.

The Private Office

The private office as traditionally conceived in the planning of corporate structures is most generally considered to be a symbolic expression of an individual's level of achievement. As the status of the position increases, so does the size, placement and amount of exterior exposure of its office. These are genuine needs at the executive level of any corporation, however, these values often times have little to do with how a private workspace may function or what needs must be met at the technical and production levels of a working environment. Certainly, the more definitive and specialized private executive offices exist in any corporate facility, but the private office or workspace in the general office plan needs to be more abstract and adaptable to change by knitting into an overall system of flexibility. By establishing the philosophy that all private technical workspaces are interior areas similar in environmental conditioning, a standard of consistency is established that is based on the need for privacy and not on the need for status.

This private workspace is an area where high levels of concentration are needed and it is an area where its occupant is most acutely aware of disturbances in the environmental conditioning. The effects of temperature control, air infiltration and solar glare are all external forces that produce discomfort to the occupant and enormous strain on the best of heating and air conditioning systems.

The Human Aspect

The development of a standard interior private workspace to fit into an overall planning system is not a new theory and does not preclude the experiencing of normal relationships among people working in an office environment. The private workspace is but one aspect of the total officescape and in broader terms, individual awareness of well being is derived not necessarily from one part, but rather a complete perception and in general terms, of the entire interior environment.


When this essay originally circulated in September 1980 — on paper in those days — the routing slip acquired a few notations:

Routing slip

(Back to CompuServe nostalgia index.)[2010-02-18]