- Tech & Gadgets
- BRW. lounge
Published 10 May 2012 05:04, Updated 25 October 2012 00:51
The New Yorker recently published an article by Jonah Lehrer declaring that “brainstorming doesn’t really work”, which inspired us at BRW to ask Marcus White and Patrick Kenny to come up with an example of a really good workspace (see “Conceiving creativity”).
Lehrer’s article was about Building 20, celebrated as one of the most creative workspaces in recent history. Building 20 was a 23,226 square-metre, three-storey, timber-framed asbestos structure constructed on the grounds of Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1943 to house the Radiation Laboratory, the Allied war effort’s main radar research institution.
Designed to be torn down after the war, it was thrown up quickly and didn’t even comply with fire safety standards of the day. As his New Yorker article noted: “Ventilation was poor and hallways were dim. The walls were thin, the roof leaked and the building was broiling in the summer and freezing in the winter.”
But that same building, in part because of its cheap construction and pliable fabric, became a treasured incubator over the next 50 years for innovations.
These included high-speed photography, the Bose Corporation, and Noam Chomsky’s linguistic work. People could adapt the space to suit their needs.
“Its ‘temporary nature’ permitted its occupants to abuse it in ways that would not be tolerated in a permanent building,” MIT says.
“If you wanted to run a wire from one lab to another, you didn’t ask anybody’s permission – you just got out a screwdriver and poked a hole through the wall. Of course this was in the days before the dangers of asbestos were recognised.”
The poorly designed building, with unclear room numbering, also forced people to wander the corridors looking for their own department. People were forced into encounters with each other.
“Those looking for the Ice Research Lab had to walk past the military recruiting office; students on their way to play with the toy trains (the Tech Model Railroad Club was on the third floor, in Room No. 20E-214) strolled along hallways filled with the latest computing experiments,” Lehrer writes.
Despite its planned lifespan of just a few years, Building 20 survived for 55. It was demolished finally in 1998.