Space Invaders

Stanford University’s fights bland work spaces, one whiteboard at a time.

Make Space: How to Set the Stage for Creative Collaboration
By Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft
John Wiley & Sons
272 pp., $49.95

It’s an excuse as old as procrastination itself: Stuck on a project? Rearrange the office. But as Scott Doorley and Scott Witthoft propose in their new book, Make Space, shifting focus—and furniture—can be just the thing to fire those creative juices.

Doorley and Witthoft run the Environments Collaborative at Stanford’s, which studies how we can use work spaces better. Their methods are simple (lots of casters and whiteboards), and often head-slappingly so. Tables are “platforms for innovation” and headphones “help focus.” But their goal is grand: overhauling corporate culture and how we create.

The two Scotts came to the through side doors—Doorley was in the film industry for ten years, while Witthoft was a forensic civil engineer—but they’ve used that to their advantage, hunting everyday solutions and dodging architect-speak. “We want to empower people to take advantage of whatever space they have,” Doorley says.

They speak from experience. For the’s first five years, Stanford “kept giving us whatever space was available,” Doorley explains, forcing them to try new designs each time they moved. “We’re practitioners and developers of all the ideas in the book,” Witthoft says. “They’re the challenges we face when we walk into a class of 48 students and think, how do we run this?”

Make Space contains their answers—scores of them—from temporary walls to stools that double as bases for work panels, from small fixes to big ideas, with inspiration from elementary schools to Bangkok bazaars. “The book is about doing,” Doorley says. “That’s why it’s bite-sized—it’s designed to get you into the book and back out, to bounce back and forth between implementation and thinking.”

No space is sacred—cubicles least of all. Traditionally, “work spaces are designed for people to work individually,” Doorley says, “not to create things together.” The authors don’t have to look far to see the future of office work: down the road is Silicon Valley, with its disregard for office hierarchies and gray-walled cubes.

But a word of caution for those looking for a panacea: whiteboards on wheels won’t turn you into Facebook. “Some companies come in and say, ‘We want to be creative too, so let’s take away all our private offices,’” Witthoft says. It’s never that simple. Even the Environments Collaborative has had to rethink ideas. Like the office-on-wheels, where everything could be—and was—rearranged daily. No one could count on a copier being in the same place twice (but the couch races were fun). That’s why Make Space offers not one solution, but many. Like the modern office, Doorley says, “It’s not built around a hierarchy. A good idea can come from anywhere.”

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