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I've read that the Bell Labs offices were designed in order to promote collaboration. It was laid out such that there'd be long hallways between the offices and things like restrooms and stairs, so that there'd be greater chances of colleagues bumping into each other and talking about work.

I don't have a copy of The Idea Factory[1], where I recall reading this handy, but that's my best recollection.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Idea-Factory-Great-American-Innovatio...

And now we put everyone in open-floorplan barns to "promote colllaboration", with nowhere for people to go back and work at when they are done collaborating.

"Hallway conversations" have become "constant conversations"

I have two theories of why open-plan offices are popular.

The first is simply that it's cheaper to have an open office. Modern office buildings tend to have large spaces -- nearly whole floors -- that are open, but can be subdivided. But subdivision costs money. Paying carpenters to put up walls isn't cheap, and even cube systems can be surprisingly expensive. Plus managers are accountable for costs. So they choose the cheap option.

The second is that open office plans are good for communication and collaboration, though less good for individual silent work. Managers are essentially all about communication and collaboration, which is why they love these open offices. Unfortunately while programmers need to both communicate and work alone, they need to communicate and collaborate much less than managers do, which is why office plans that are selected by managers make things difficult for the programmers.

My cynical side says a third reason is that open offices make it very easy for managers/bosses/anyone who wants to see if you're working or not.

One of the first things I ask potential employers in my current job search is whether they employ open space office or not, and simply refuse to talk further if they want me to sit with 20+ people in one room. I hope more developers will do it to put some pressure on this matter.

I'd love to have the leverage to do that, but I don't. The vast majority of companies see nothing wrong with this, and I'm not so in demand that I can filter based on office space.

It was the old RAND Santa Monica headquarters, designed by John Williams: http://www.rand.org/pubs/classics/building.html

That particular building was demolished in 2005.

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