Brian Kernighan on Open Office Plan

June 1, 2021

In his book, Unix: A History and a Memoir, Brian Kernighan talks about the Unix room at Bell Labs where the operating system was developed, and contrasts it with the modern open offices.

In retrospect, I think that Bell Labs did a good job with space. Private offices, though they cost more than open areas, give people peace and quiet, a place to focus without constant noise in the background, storage for books and papers, and a door to close for intense thought or private conversations.

By now, I’ve spent enough time in open-plan work areas to know that, for me at least, they are utterly destructive of concentration. The Bell Labs mixture of one’s own private office and a shared space for the community worked very well.