The task of the office MAY 18 2004
Designs for Working, a New Yorker acticle by Malcolm Gladwell from a few years ago, draws parallels between good office design and the ideas in Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities:
The task of the office, then, is to invite a particular kind of social interaction--the casual, nonthreatening encounter that makes it easy for relative strangers to talk to each other. Offices need the sort of social milieu that Jane Jacobs found on the sidewalks of the West Village. "It is possible in a city street neighborhood to know all kinds of people without unwelcome entanglements, without boredom, necessity for excuses, explanations, fears of giving offense, embarrassments respecting impositions or commitments, and all such paraphernalia of obligations which can accompany less limited relationships," Jacobs wrote. If you substitute "office" for "city street neighborhood," that sentence becomes the perfect statement of what the modern employer wants from the workplace.
Jacobs' book is pretty much a must-read for anyone constructing environments for social interaction (cities, offices, software, restaurants, libraries, etc.).