Contract - Essay from the Past: Astounding Technology Portends Drastic Office Changes (January 1980)

design - essay



Essay from the Past: Astounding Technology Portends Drastic Office Changes (January 1980)

04 May, 2010

-By Len Corlin, editor in chief, Contract



What the pencil did for communications, the microprocessor will do for the office in the ’80s. For the uninitiated, the microprocessor is a fusion of electronics and computing that combines three vital functions: memory, logic, and speed. All three are combined in what is called a silicon chip, so small that if you drop it on your carpeted office floor, you may have trouble finding it, since it measures only one-fifth of an inch square.

In that mini-mini circuit, however, is the equivalent of 8,000 transistors. Recall that transistors took the place of vacuum tubes and that the portable radio, which you may have in your pocket, incorporated four to eight transistors. Predictions are that by the mid-1980s, a chip that size will have about one million components in it. The implications for office design are astounding. Here are some of the microprocessor- involved information management developments contract designers and manufacturers are already, or will be, dealing with:

Voice actuated typing, which will involve an executive talking into a microphone and having his words translated into typing; facsimile copiers, which transmit 8½ by 11-in. sheets of data in a matter of minutes, or, if the copier incorporates built-in, optical character recognition capability, at the rate of five or six seconds per page; a laser beam printer-receiver transmitter of documents over telephone lines, which prints at a rate of 1,800 characters per second or 36 pages per minute; talk-back computers, which invite operators to talk to them and then talk back, instead of relying on the typewriter keyboard; nationwide electronic mail systems, which will circumscribe the slower post office department and deliver mail from the California office to the New York office in a matter of hours; CRTs at every desk, which will permit accessing files and detailed information at the press of a button; computer data banks, which will store untold amounts of information and catalogs for immediate access; highly efficient work environments tailored for maximum productivity, perhaps with new lighting sources not thought up yet; and audiovisual transmissions by satellite that will create instant visual contact with employees half a world away.

Workstations may be assembled from off-the-shelf elements.

A pipe dream? Not at all. The technological developments listed above either are here now or will be in the early ‘80s. All of them will have a profound effect on the design of offices. An estimate by Daniel F. Kelly, project manager of International Resource Development Inc. (IRD), Norwalk, Conn., projects that up to three million clerical and professional workers in 27 different industries may have their work made more efficient by “personal business terminals” or special-purpose workstations. Increasingly, says IRD, these workstations will be configured into integral desk-like structures, causing computer manufacturers to move into the office furniture market…

IRD, which is a specialized research and management consulting firm, speculates on the possibility that office furniture manufacturers will themselves consider manufacturing specialized workstations, including the electronic components: “Keyboards, CRT displays, microprocessors, and floppy disks are all readily available from OEM sources, so that workstations can be assembled from off-the-shelf elements, without requiring a major investment in electronic design or manufacturing facilities.”

But that is educated speculation on possible new specification sources. More important to the designer and specifier who will be doing office planning and design are the implications of how radically offices in the 1980s will be changed. While some claim that the office is primarily a place to process and communicate information, the reality is that the basic function is as a place to make decisions. Therefore, all of the new equipment, devices, and furnishings that go into an office will be designed to maximize the efficiency of information management, retrieval, and decision making.

Inevitably, there will be a proliferation of CRTs (cathode ray tubes) at workstations, because access to computer-stored data will be one of the prime functions of the systems in bringing processed information to those who will reprocess, use the data, and make those decisions. That condition alone, in addition to greater use of duplicating and other office machines, will have a significant effect on the design of office space. Lighting that eliminates veiling reflections, new power management sources and equipment, and work environments that provide thermal controls for the comfort of the employee are only a few of the design criteria that will have to be reckoned with by specifiers.

Designers will have to reckon with new space design criteria.


Moreover, the growth in white collar workers that is projected for the ‘80s, both in government and the private sector, means that all of this complex equipment—from word processing centers to highly automated workstations—will have to retain the flexibility designed into the open plan scheme 10 and 15 years prior. Departments will still change overnight, some will be moved to another building two miles away, others will be added or combined with bigger or smaller departments, and some even will disappear. The dynamics of business growth and the effect it has on office design will continue to bedevil the space planner with challenges that have not even been dreamed of up to now.

Components will be miniaturized to enhance communications.

The National Office Products Association (NOPA) estimates that word processors, which totaled around 200,000 units in 1974, will reach about the two million mark by 1989. NOPA spells out projected growth in office dictation machines, copy and duplicating equipment, computing machines, telephone and communications equipment, and calculators in its July/August 1979 special report that dwarfs the imagination. Coupled with all this is the drive toward miniaturization, which will shrink the size of all of the electronic equipment mentioned earlier.

Projections are that CRT terminals will even become mobile and businesspersons will simply disconnect units on their desks and take the CRTs with them when they go to lunch or home at the end of the day. One telephone call and a special plug will enable them to access in the home the same information available in the office. The possibilities are endless, limited only by the ingenuity of the same people who brought chunks of the moon back to earth.

While the special article in this issue on power accessing developments reflects the latest developments for the early ’80s—flat wire, raised  floors, and so forth—miniaturization may decrease the actual amount of power needed per appliance. The number of appliances, however, promises to increase as the office becomes more and more automated.

Michael Brill, president of the Buffalo Organization for Social & Technological Innovation, says, “About 10 years ago, when I worked at the National Bureau of Standards, we started to develop performance specifications on Federal office buildings, with the aim of reducing costs.

An analysis that we did was reasoned out as follows: If one perceives the office building as part of a system for producing information— and that is what it is—the components consist of people, reproducing machines, systems furniture, machines to add value to information, and other office tools. Examining the cost of that intricate system over a period of 30 years, the first cost of the building is 2 percent of all the money paid out over that three-decade time frame. The cost of heat, light, and maintenances is another 6 percent. What is paid out for people is 92 percent. The issue then becomes that instead of trying to reduce the first cost—what is already the smallest cost—instead of squeezing something out of something that already is squeezed to start with, we ought to be trying to find a way to use that building to support people’s performance in the office. In effect, if one believes that the 2 percent cost of facility has an impact on the 92 percent, then current priorities are wrong.”…

On the energy scene, task/ambient lighting in open plan installations has enabled wattages to be reduced from five watts per square foot to 1½ and 2 watts per square foot for lighting. Greater use of machines, however, may mitigate those savings. But a reduction in one area keeps the aggregate sum down.

Shorter work week, decentralization of offices

Implications of the office of the future are far reaching. Greater efficiency in the office environment and the thrust to conserve energy may result in a shorter work week. Businesses will be given the capacity to decentralize, move to the suburbs, since information heretofore found only in the centralized main office will be available to any satellite with the use of the computer and CRT terminals.

But by far, the greater impetus in the technologically complex ‘80s will be the ability of management to make intelligent decisions fast, based on fast communication and immediately available information. The space design and specification industry must gear now to meet those irresistible needs.


Essay from the Past: Astounding Technology Portends Drastic Office Changes (January 1980)

04 May, 2010


What the pencil did for communications, the microprocessor will do for the office in the ’80s. For the uninitiated, the microprocessor is a fusion of electronics and computing that combines three vital functions: memory, logic, and speed. All three are combined in what is called a silicon chip, so small that if you drop it on your carpeted office floor, you may have trouble finding it, since it measures only one-fifth of an inch square.

In that mini-mini circuit, however, is the equivalent of 8,000 transistors. Recall that transistors took the place of vacuum tubes and that the portable radio, which you may have in your pocket, incorporated four to eight transistors. Predictions are that by the mid-1980s, a chip that size will have about one million components in it. The implications for office design are astounding. Here are some of the microprocessor- involved information management developments contract designers and manufacturers are already, or will be, dealing with:

Voice actuated typing, which will involve an executive talking into a microphone and having his words translated into typing; facsimile copiers, which transmit 8½ by 11-in. sheets of data in a matter of minutes, or, if the copier incorporates built-in, optical character recognition capability, at the rate of five or six seconds per page; a laser beam printer-receiver transmitter of documents over telephone lines, which prints at a rate of 1,800 characters per second or 36 pages per minute; talk-back computers, which invite operators to talk to them and then talk back, instead of relying on the typewriter keyboard; nationwide electronic mail systems, which will circumscribe the slower post office department and deliver mail from the California office to the New York office in a matter of hours; CRTs at every desk, which will permit accessing files and detailed information at the press of a button; computer data banks, which will store untold amounts of information and catalogs for immediate access; highly efficient work environments tailored for maximum productivity, perhaps with new lighting sources not thought up yet; and audiovisual transmissions by satellite that will create instant visual contact with employees half a world away.

Workstations may be assembled from off-the-shelf elements.

A pipe dream? Not at all. The technological developments listed above either are here now or will be in the early ‘80s. All of them will have a profound effect on the design of offices. An estimate by Daniel F. Kelly, project manager of International Resource Development Inc. (IRD), Norwalk, Conn., projects that up to three million clerical and professional workers in 27 different industries may have their work made more efficient by “personal business terminals” or special-purpose workstations. Increasingly, says IRD, these workstations will be configured into integral desk-like structures, causing computer manufacturers to move into the office furniture market…

IRD, which is a specialized research and management consulting firm, speculates on the possibility that office furniture manufacturers will themselves consider manufacturing specialized workstations, including the electronic components: “Keyboards, CRT displays, microprocessors, and floppy disks are all readily available from OEM sources, so that workstations can be assembled from off-the-shelf elements, without requiring a major investment in electronic design or manufacturing facilities.”

But that is educated speculation on possible new specification sources. More important to the designer and specifier who will be doing office planning and design are the implications of how radically offices in the 1980s will be changed. While some claim that the office is primarily a place to process and communicate information, the reality is that the basic function is as a place to make decisions. Therefore, all of the new equipment, devices, and furnishings that go into an office will be designed to maximize the efficiency of information management, retrieval, and decision making.

Inevitably, there will be a proliferation of CRTs (cathode ray tubes) at workstations, because access to computer-stored data will be one of the prime functions of the systems in bringing processed information to those who will reprocess, use the data, and make those decisions. That condition alone, in addition to greater use of duplicating and other office machines, will have a significant effect on the design of office space. Lighting that eliminates veiling reflections, new power management sources and equipment, and work environments that provide thermal controls for the comfort of the employee are only a few of the design criteria that will have to be reckoned with by specifiers.

Designers will have to reckon with new space design criteria.


Moreover, the growth in white collar workers that is projected for the ‘80s, both in government and the private sector, means that all of this complex equipment—from word processing centers to highly automated workstations—will have to retain the flexibility designed into the open plan scheme 10 and 15 years prior. Departments will still change overnight, some will be moved to another building two miles away, others will be added or combined with bigger or smaller departments, and some even will disappear. The dynamics of business growth and the effect it has on office design will continue to bedevil the space planner with challenges that have not even been dreamed of up to now.

Components will be miniaturized to enhance communications.

The National Office Products Association (NOPA) estimates that word processors, which totaled around 200,000 units in 1974, will reach about the two million mark by 1989. NOPA spells out projected growth in office dictation machines, copy and duplicating equipment, computing machines, telephone and communications equipment, and calculators in its July/August 1979 special report that dwarfs the imagination. Coupled with all this is the drive toward miniaturization, which will shrink the size of all of the electronic equipment mentioned earlier.

Projections are that CRT terminals will even become mobile and businesspersons will simply disconnect units on their desks and take the CRTs with them when they go to lunch or home at the end of the day. One telephone call and a special plug will enable them to access in the home the same information available in the office. The possibilities are endless, limited only by the ingenuity of the same people who brought chunks of the moon back to earth.

While the special article in this issue on power accessing developments reflects the latest developments for the early ’80s—flat wire, raised  floors, and so forth—miniaturization may decrease the actual amount of power needed per appliance. The number of appliances, however, promises to increase as the office becomes more and more automated.

Michael Brill, president of the Buffalo Organization for Social & Technological Innovation, says, “About 10 years ago, when I worked at the National Bureau of Standards, we started to develop performance specifications on Federal office buildings, with the aim of reducing costs.

An analysis that we did was reasoned out as follows: If one perceives the office building as part of a system for producing information— and that is what it is—the components consist of people, reproducing machines, systems furniture, machines to add value to information, and other office tools. Examining the cost of that intricate system over a period of 30 years, the first cost of the building is 2 percent of all the money paid out over that three-decade time frame. The cost of heat, light, and maintenances is another 6 percent. What is paid out for people is 92 percent. The issue then becomes that instead of trying to reduce the first cost—what is already the smallest cost—instead of squeezing something out of something that already is squeezed to start with, we ought to be trying to find a way to use that building to support people’s performance in the office. In effect, if one believes that the 2 percent cost of facility has an impact on the 92 percent, then current priorities are wrong.”…

On the energy scene, task/ambient lighting in open plan installations has enabled wattages to be reduced from five watts per square foot to 1½ and 2 watts per square foot for lighting. Greater use of machines, however, may mitigate those savings. But a reduction in one area keeps the aggregate sum down.

Shorter work week, decentralization of offices

Implications of the office of the future are far reaching. Greater efficiency in the office environment and the thrust to conserve energy may result in a shorter work week. Businesses will be given the capacity to decentralize, move to the suburbs, since information heretofore found only in the centralized main office will be available to any satellite with the use of the computer and CRT terminals.

But by far, the greater impetus in the technologically complex ‘80s will be the ability of management to make intelligent decisions fast, based on fast communication and immediately available information. The space design and specification industry must gear now to meet those irresistible needs.
 


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