Open Studio Spaces

Recently, I attended a lecture by Marlon Blackwell here at Virginia Tech. As Marlon went through some of his design projects, I noticed that one project, the Steven L. Anderson Design Center, featured an open studio space with desks separated by walls used to pin up work. As a design student, I understand the importance of wall space. However, the way it’s used here creates a separation between desks facing one another. At Virginia Tech, our desks are totally flat and open. Both rooms (pictured below) are large scale and very open otherwise.

A little over a week ago, one of my professors mentioned how modern the concept of open work spaces are. Considering how modern Marlon Blackwell’s design style is, I am surprised at his decision to break up the room more. From my personal experience, I do enjoy the openness because I feel like it does encourage collaboration and discussion. However, in Burchard Hall, there are also side rooms (and the round Kiva in the middle of the industrial design side of the room) that are useful for when quiet study or work is needed after studio hours. I am curious as to why such a decision was made. I know that while pinning space is useful, having other rooms for critique and pin-up purposes is an option that is frequently used at Virginia Tech’s design school. Not only do these walls hinder conversation and discussion that could benefit studio projects, but the open atmosphere encourages networking among different years and classes in the school of architecture. On an everyday basis, I rarely am overwhelmed or distracted by conversation going on around the room. Sound tends to not travel far, which might be another factor that influenced Marlon’s decision. Maybe there are no other rooms suited for pinning up work in the Design Center. However, that would introduce a new set of problems with practicing group critiques. I am curious as to why this decision was made since I find it more of a hindrance than a smart design decision.

Looking into articles against open work spaces, I found that the most common complaint was the noise level, which I think might only decrease slightly with cubicles instead of desks. Noise level was something that has surprisingly not bothered me much since being in Burchard Hall. If I need to focus, I will normally put on headphones and listen to calming music. In the rare cases it gets bad, I will move into a side room to work, but honestly, the reason I do that is more related to desk cluttering and needing a clean space to work. Another argument against the open work space system is that conversation doesn’t always relate to work. As a design student, the majority of my life is now centered around design, and I only occasionally hear conversation unrelated to our projects or other design debates. I think this might be more of an issue for other industries practicing open work spaces.

Bouncing my ideas off my peers has helped me develop skills and projects more than I would ever be able to do on my own. The ability to ask for help and suggestions is so crucial as an industrial designer that I think it is incredibly important to encourage discussion and growth of that skill — especially in school as a student. When we were assigned our project to design an organizer for our desks, I made a point to make it lower and open, so that kind of communication could still happen.


Steven L. Anderson Design Center:


Virginia Tech Burchard Hall:


I would love to hear your thoughts! Do you think open work spaces are beneficial? Do you agree with Marlon’s choice of desks?


Marlon Blackwell’s Website:

Article on the Pro’s and Con’s of Open Workspaces:

More Articles to Check Out:

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