‘Office spaces are simply not thought through at all’

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Sam Gosling, Psychoanalyst
Sam Gosling, Psychoanalyst Photo: Arun Sehrawat

EDITED EXCERPTS FROM AN INTERVIEW

What made you carry out the Snoop experiment? What was the original impulse?

I was interested in how people relate to space. When I wrote the book, I angled it to one side. It could have been written either way. I’m really interested in what space means to people.

How can you flip around Snoop to use it to turn around your own space to improve your own life?

I think that’s enormously important and it’s the whole point of the book. People don’t appreciate enough how important space is. You are given an office space to work in, which meets your physical needs but not necessarily your psychological ones. That could end up having a detrimental effect on people’s health and their productivity.

So modular spaces, grey and brown cubicles are sending out the message — be like the next person, don’t defy your boss?

That’s partially true but I think most of the time office spaces are simply not thought through at all. People are scared to think about how much space affects people.”

How can people rework their space to make their lives better? What tangible things can they do?

Well, the architect Chris Travis says that remodelling your place is easier than remodelling your mate. For example, if you are sharing space with someone who keeps the toilet sink messy, just build two sinks. There are architectural solutions for some of the things that go wrong and you can nurture the things that are good in a relationship. For instance, Travis asked his clients: “Tell me the things you do that nurtures your relationship.” One couple said, “Before we had kids, every morning we used to sit and have coffee together and that gave us the chance to connect. But now with the kids, life is so chaotic, we don’t have a chance to do that.” So he built them a coffee bar in their bedroom so they could go back to their coffee morning before they got out and faced the world.

Can a cluttered space be read in many ways?

Yeah. There is organised clutter that can be about conscientiousness. If it’s disorganised chaos, then it’s low on conscientiousness. But if it’s someone who likes hoarding, then it’s probably also related to neuroticism.

What has been the most important takeaway from your study?

The biggest surprise has been that people read my book and think about their spaces and surroundings differently. I think architects should all take psychology classes. If I was designing a zoo and I was going to design a space for polar bears, I’d say, ‘Alright, I need to learn a lot about polar bears.’ Whereas you have architects building spaces for humans and they don’t think they need to learn about humans. That makes no sense. Why do it for polar bears but not for people.

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