Would you let your daughter work in an open plan?

A few months ago I was helping my parents tidy up their loft and I grabbed a bunch of articles they’d cut out of newspapers and magazines years ago. When a friend recently moved to new open plan offices I was reminded of one of these and so have scanned it in.

It’s from the Observer magazine on 3rd November 1968 about Boots’ new open plan office building. Aside from a few amusing scenes which date it, the text doesn’t quite live up to the outrage suggested by the harrumphing headline and it focuses more on the architecture.

Skidmore Owings and Merrill from Chicago, with Yorke Rosenberg Mardall from London, designed the building and interiors (“You can’t separate the furniture from the appearance of the building”). It’s hard to get a sense of the place from these photos but I like the look of it. I’d love to know how it all worked out over the past forty years.

Click an image to see a larger, readable version at Flickr. I’ve pulled out a few of the more amusing quotes…

1968 Open Plan (1/3)

Dolen Davies, a chatty blonde who has been with Boots for 34 years and is now their beauty consultant, says: “I think the girls are so much more conscious of being on show, they take far more trouble with themselves. And you get to know people so quickly here.”

With my 21st century politically correct hat on, I assume Dolen is a blonde woman, rather than a blonde man, and that the “girls” are also adult women.

1968 Open Plan (2/3)

Ivan Mitchell, Boots’ own chief architect, sits in a private office with smoked glass walls through which he is clearly visible and says that he suffers from visual distraction. He has to turn his desk sideways to avoid seeing the mini-skirts.


1968 Open Plan (3/3)

[In] the directors’ wing … the rooms … branch off a wide, quiet corridor which houses secretaries. There is a private bar for morning coffees and pre-lunch drinks, the dining-room is wood-panelled and tungsten-lit; the conference room sumptuous with wild silk walls and brown leather chairs.

No open plan for the directors of course. I suspect some things don’t change.

UPDATE: A couple of links with a bit more information about the building:


  • I just mourn the loss of the private bar for pre-lunch drinks. The workplace is so... uncivilised these days!

  • One of the reasons I love working at Redwood is that we have our own chef, who does fantastic lunches for client meetings... it's like an episode of "Mad Men".

  • I suspect some things don’t change.

    I dunno, man. I mean, senior management...sure. But I'm at a pay grade that probably would have swung an office with an actual door in '68 (NB: not, mind you, a corner office) and I look out onto a scene that Jack Lemmon wouldn't have any problem recognizing.

    Never underestimate the power of "efficiencies" to cascade upward if their motive logic is enhanced shareholder value.

  • "I assume Dolen is a blonde woman, rather than a blonde man".

    No need to assume, because 'Blonde' is female; 'Blond' is male.

  • Aha, good point Glyn.

  • I was trying to explain what the internet was to my grandfather...he is 95 and has a failing memory and attention span...so I typed in his name and where he used to work...and got the above. My grandfather is Ivan Mitchell.

    He retired from Boots in about 1975. He was amazed to see the above article, though he doesn't recall it. The mini-skirts comment made me laugh - that's definitely his sense of humour (and it would have been tongue in cheek rather than full on sexist). Thanks for putting the article up.

  • That's wonderful Alex! Thanks for letting me know.

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Tuesday 16 December 2008, 6:05pm

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16 Dec 2008 at Twitter

  • 8:38pm: Heading off to help warm @Gennon's flat.
  • 4:31pm: By the time we got to Oslo / Snow was gone / And we got lost / The beds were small / but we felt so young / It was just like Christmas.
  • 4:12pm: Mince pie o'clock.

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  6. Jane Siberry (5)
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