An Architect’s Desk

Bob Borson —  September 20, 2011 — 59 Comments

Bob Borson's office

The picture above is my office … and the reason I have this picture is that I was experimenting with a recently acquired wide angle lens and wondered how much of this small room could I get in one picture. The act of doing this started me thinking about work environments – more specifically the desks of architects. How have they changed over time and do they still serve the same purpose as they did just a few years ago?

I’ve written about an architects office before (my office – here) but this time I wanted to focus on the desk area itself. The question being: Can you tell anything about the person based on the appearance of their work space? I sent out a request to architects and interior designers asking for pictures of their desks – as is – with no cleaning it up any more than would be typical. I was curious to see if the desks belonging to the architects that responded would share any similarities.

Would their desks be orderly or a chaotic?

Would they be adorned with curiosities or spartan?

How many would use drafting tables, computers, or some combination of the two?

Would the desks be large or small?

How about cubicles, open bull pen arrangements, private offices?

Would it show the personality of the individual or the culture of the office?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions and after looking through the pictures that were submitted, I couldn’t see any patterns that were consistent across all the photo’s I received. I did notice that the ownership of the business was generally was reflected in the ownership of the desk area but I think that would be expected (think of it like owning your house versus renting; you are more likely to make modifications when it’s yours). I found looking at these pictures entertaining and there was a time when I was not beneath wanting to work at a place simply because the offices looked “more inspiring” than others.

The culture of a business can partially be told through looking at the work environment. I can’t help but think that if a person lays claim to their workspace that it would infer some sort of permanence – why hang art if your not going to be there very long? Just like architectural practices and styles are varied, so to are the desks of the employees, sometimes the message conveyed is more serious and professional than others.

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Evan Troxel's Desk

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Mike Frechette's Desk

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Sean Fright's desk

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Andrew Hawkins Office

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Erik Munoz Garcia's Desk

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Meredith Heron's Desk

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Genie Bae's Desk

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Earl Mark Kaplan's Desk

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Neal Pann's office

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Erik Jens desk

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Doug Burke's Desk

Doug Burke's Desk

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Derek Leavitt's desk

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Andrea Ayers-Esplen office

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Andrew van Leeuwen's Desk.

So were you surprised or did you see what you expected?  I would love to hear your thoughts on the value of a proper work environment and the message that gets conveyed. What did you think of some of these work desks? I would appreciate it if you would be respectful to the people who took the time to send me the images of their desks. Not everyone gets a say in how things look or how much personality they can convey at their office.

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I was surprised when I received over 80 images back so if you were kind enough to respond and I didn’t use your picture, please accept my apologies.  

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  • Barabbas

    Am I the only one curious as to why architects seem to love punishing themselves with the least comfortable chairs on the market? Everybody has those awful rickety drafting chairs I used in school!

  • Bill Reeves

    A photo of my desk would express out lack of storage. The senior partner owns our building and we have a storage room filled with rolls of drawings, boxes of paperwork, inherited furniture and left over carpet. No where to add anything.

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  • Hollyjayne2011

    For an architect your desk is rather tidy! 

    (first year architecture student) 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      it gets messy but I have to keep it under control or I would lose things (or at the very least, lose track of them). That means every so often – at least once or twice a week – I have to tidy things up.

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  • Dr. B

    Times have changed with technology. The beautiful watercolor presentations are all but gone now.  The offices are all wonderful.  I do like the simple, clean look; however that is not me

  • Guest

    I am interesting about print on the wall, on 8th pick, Genie Bae’s desk. What it is?

    • Genie

      Hi there, it’s actually just a centerfold from a Sherwin Williams brochure. A color wheel. I was cleaning my desk and came across it. I thought the graphic was pretty, so I stuck it up on the wall.

  • danilo ramirez

    i believe this is a valuable work, cause it shows the differences beetween the desks, so you can tell a lot of things about the architect. but i agree with Bobfan, i believe that it would be interesting to see the differences beetween the professional architect, and the one in the process of becoming professional. I am an student from Colombia, and it would be great to see a similar thing. This was an interesting ting to look at.
    Danilo Ramirez.

  • Bobfan

    Hi Bob why don’t you introduce an article with student’s desk. It may show the difference beetween a student and an architect as they are becoming mature in their career….cardboard models v.s so many rolls of drawings, paperworks…..

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That’s a great idea – not sure what sort of response I would get since I don’t know how many students follow this site. I start poking around but for starters … send me a picture your desk!

  • phil

    Hi Bob, not sure if someone has already said this or if you already know but a trade magazine in the UK called Building Design has recently been doing a similar thing – see their ones at:

    http://www.bdonline.co.uk//practice-and-it/architects-desks/ 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      That’s really great! I hate to admit that until a very short time ago I had never even heard of BD Online. I would imagine that if one searched the internet enough, you could find images of some of the most famous designers ever – not just architects.

      Now there’s an idea for you.

      Cheers

  • EGD Guy

    Really like the organic wall of firewood!

  • http://twitter.com/HawkinsArch Hawkins+Architecture

    Thanks for this. And I am glad you got so many responses. I am lucky enough to be one of the ones shown above. I do think its interesting to see the various ways in which we work. And I also agree, these are just shots of a work space only. There are quite possibly many of the :missing” items in other parts of the office. I know that I have them in places that are not my immediate office. Also that I was not able to get all of my work space in the photo. So windows, plants etc. did not make the shot. But some interesting discussion about these photos. Its an great dialogue. 

  • http://fashiontrendsenjoy.blogspot.com/ lynn

    i like your office,because is bright enough,and i like your desk too,because is big enough,if desk is small,i think i can not work carefully.

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  • Alex

    The office with a lake view……awesomeness! that’s all.

  • http://mjvala.tumblr.com Mike Vala

    While I like my little corner of the office I work in and it’s nice to have a window (even though there’s not a ton to look out at where we are), I’m really jealous of Doug Burke’s view from his desk… 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Love the jade plant Mike – I have one on my desk. Just a little low effort plant to brighten my day

  • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

    So I’m curious, what camera lens did you get to take that shot?  

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      AF-S Nikkor 10-24mm 1:3.5-4.5G

      but don’t worry about that, it was really the skill of the photographer…

  • Rebekah

    Quite interesting!  I’m glad I’m not the only architect who’s thought about this.
    I’m also relieved that my messy desk is not so out of place.  As soon as I tidy it up I lose something…

  • Sandra

    I think it’s a shame to see only two or three rolls of tracing paper among those desks.  It’s often easier to run through multiple quick schemes via hand sketches.

  • K-rankin

    7th picture Canadian! I saw that cup of tim’s on the desk

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      ding ding ding! – you are correct!

  • AJ

    Interesting, not one workspace on here has a single living thing. Plants, anyone? They’re a health benefit!!

    I love this post, would like to see the rest of the photos you got, Bob. Perhaps put them on flicker?

    • K-rankin

      I think there’s a plant on Bobs desk.

    • Anonymous

      Yes, it’d be great to see them all. Maybe post them on Facebook?

      Doug

      • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

        I probably won’t do that simply because a majority of the pictures I received were taken with cell phones and the quality level is pretty poor. I am holding onto the quality images, more are trickling in, and those has a chance of ending up somewhere.

        We’ll see

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I actually have several in my office but only one made the shot :) 
      (upper left-hand corner is a jade plant)

  • http://twitter.com/EBArchDesign Genie

    Lol! Too funny about how architects are all commenting trying to find patterns to desks. Coincidentally, I got your email about my desk just two days after I had cleaned it off and reorganized it! I don’t think it’s fair to equate clean desks with draftsmen and messy desks with designers. I think it’s more indicative of how a person feels comfortable working than their actual responsibilities. I live pretty minimally at home and I function that way at work too. Clean, empty spaces make me happy. :-)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      a clean desk in my office means accomplishment. Whenever my desk is at it’s messiest, it’s normally when things are at their most hectic and chaotic. As tasks get complete, the paperwork and drawings move off the desk and into someplace with more permanence. When I see other people’s clean desks, I tend to think the same thing

  • WILHELM

    I only noted 3 work spaces with actual drawings…hmm.  As a construction specialist, I see a trend of 3-D images not being adequately formatted into 2-D construction documents, so maybe your survey is indicative of that. 

    I like the wood pile too…

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think the drawings are there, just out of frame. My full size are in the flat files outside my office door (top photo) while I have a hernia inducing stack of half-size drawings stored under my desk (on the left-hand side).

      Because many of these spaces are just desk tops, drawings are nearby instead of laying on the desk. I could be wrong but I haven’t met an architect yet that doesn’t have some drawings nearby – no matter how technologically advanced they may be in other facets of there business.

      • WILHELM

        Doing CA and QA it seemed that I always had drawings/specs out on the table…there is probably something to the post that pointed out that your job determines what is out to view…I did have a cool rolling half-size drawing rack that could fit under my desk, but it turned out to be more an historical library than an active resource…I hope the floor under your stack is rated for the concentrated load!

  • http://www.mowerymarsh.com/ Mowery Marsh

    I love the wood pile wall divider.  Ever have bugs crawling on your desk?  I’d like to hear more about how that came about… Seeing it brings back memories as a kid hauling wood with my dad to stoke our wood furnace…  we had huge piles like that in our house.  This one looks well structured!

  • Neal P

    I find it interesting that almost 50% of those photos showed a Mac on their desk.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      but 11 of the 15 desks represented have PC’s…

      can’t get away from big brother

  • Dustin Bopp

    Glad to see you got so many responses since I failed to comply with your request (I was out of the office all day yesterday). At the moment, my desk is a table at Starbucks (prefer local, but it’s the closest).  Technology has made it increasingly easy to have a mobile office.  I am trying to create a global practice with the ability to relocate to various locations for extended periods of time while still maintaining my base of work here in St. Louis.  I’ve moved nearly everything to the “cloud” and communicate with my employees via a variety of internet services. I keep my physical office space to a minimum which keeps overhead down. Plus, the more space I have, the more I tend to fill it with junk.  I keep only product samples of current projects or select beloved materials. I turn reps away all the time that want to drop of samples and binders — I don’t want them.  I can get all the info I need from the internet and just order samples as needed.  It does make it a little more challenging to walk into a meeting unprepared. As many of us have done, in the past when I didn’t have a lot to show I could always grab a few cool samples as I walked out the door to talk about and impress the client with.

    • http://www.ronestudio.wordpress.com Jeremiah

      Dustin, I’m attempting to start the exact same model as you. We need to talk! :)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think what you are doing is incredibly interesting and I hear more and more people moving towards this way of working.

      Can I ask you how many employees you have? I am trying to imagine your process working for us at 9 employees and I am having a hard time seeing it.

      • Dustin Bopp

        Just two employees.  Maybe less after this month…

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          :(

  • http://twitter.com/TALV58 Todd Vendituoli

    I tend to like less clutter to my work area and if it starts to get a little backed up, I take the time and go through it all. Over the years I’ve had small spaces and large, both have worked well for those particular times. Also a window and a view are a must for when you just stop for a pause, you have a different view/thought/perspective!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I’m with you – come every Thursday, my desk looks like a paper bomb exploded. If I don’t take the time to organize and file things away, things get out of sight and out of mind – or worse … lost.

      Expectations are high with our clients and I can’t let things get to messy or it affects my ability to perform. As a result, every Friday I spend the first 30 minutes of my day making sure things are where they are supposed to be and that generally means not in a pile on my desk.

      Thanks Todd

  • Robinwillcox

    I was surprised that only the bottom two photos (which look like they are from the same office) have any physical models in view.  Which probably says more about the process of design in the practice than the individual desk-owners. But if you saw these photos out of the context of this post, in many you would not even be able to tell that they belong to architects at all, whether their roles are more designer or drafter as architectrunnerguy points out in an earlier post (your office included – only the visible flat files are the telltale).  Very few renderings/models on the walls; few visible rolls of drawings, etc.   

    It would also be interesting to compare the work that comes out of the types of offices shown, too.  I toured Alvaro Siza’s office, which was stuffed to the rafters with study and presentation models in all stages; they are a key part of his process….and all of them completely white, just like his buildings. 

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      the last two photos are from Andrew van Leeuwen’s desk from Build LLC in Seattle – they use both physical and virtual models on many of their projects.

      I will add that if you were to think that based on the photo of my desk (the very first one) that I don’t design or that my office doesn’t build models you would be wrong – I just don’t keep them at my desk :)

      These photos are singular moments in time and depending on what phase a project might be in would have a lot to do with the contents of someone’s desk. Most of these photos came from people who work in small offices or on their own so you probably wouldn’t see anything other than the most recent work in their area.

      at least that’s what I think

    • Anonymous

      Interesting point regarding the models. For me, I use them (my space is one of the ones above) but I usually give them to the client (I found they don’t really go through a scanner all that well) and the one’s I have are in my conference area, not my work area.

      Doug

    • shtrum

      The lack of models was what i first noticed also, although not surprising.  Most firms i worked at seemed to only appreciate them as closet filler and spider condos.  Although not working in architecture anymore, i still keep a couple national competition entries and a small housing study model at my office.  They’re great conversation pieces . . . and more importantly, keep my two sons from doing impersonations of King-Kong-and-Godzilla-destroying-Tokyo.

  • Anonymous

    I kinda like spaces a little messy. Some of those desks above one could make computer chips on!

    It would be interest to know the roles of the occupants of these desks. Among architects, while many sub types there’s probably two main types, designers and draftsmen. Designers I believe tend to be a little more messy while a draftsman is happy with just a desk and a laptop. I know in the firms I worked in the designers always had messier work spaces while the draftsmens desks just had a monitor and keyboard on it.

    I’m likely off here but from my count it appears that 6 of the 14 spaces shown have bumwad and/or parallel bar in the photo. I would think these desks are those of designers while just the ones with computers (especially those with super clean desks) might be draftsmen/spec.writers, etc.

    Doug

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I don’t think you are too far off on your assumptions but there is an unknown variable that throws a wildcard into the mix; business owner.

      Since I know most of the owners of these desks, I can tell you that some of the cleaner desks belong to designers who also own their own practices. As a result, I think the desk reflects the organization that sometimes accompanies the person who wears all the hats.

  • Nina

    i personally dislike small and crowded spaces , one thing i noticed is that all the working spaces are small and kinda messy . 
    as architects because of our working nature we tend top get messy because of the pressure , the drafting papers all over the place and sometimes it’s hard to find where we’ve put our stuff . 
    so for me i like wide spaces with views . honestly i get inspired when there’s wide space around me .

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think given a choice, everyone would choose a wide space with a view. 

      For me, a window (of any size) is the most important

      • Vclark

        Bob, I love reading your pieces, always full of I souring ideas. Thanks.
        I love a clean office. My desk is large and well laid out. I like everything in it’s place. My pencils are lined up next to my daily minder so I can jot down the hours I bill. My fountain pen next to my keys, that’s what I use to write when I get the chance to write. My husband on the other hand is a cost engineer who is a big slob! He has no respect for his workspace, pens or how much space he has, the radio is always loud…I do not know how he gets work done!!! A clean desk means a lot in my humble opinion. It helps keep you organized, allows for less mistakes and I spires you daily…. I am sure this is only a woman’s point of view. Keep the ideas flowing- love reading from you.

        • Vclark

          It was supposed to say ‘inspiring’ not ( I souring). Sorry.

          • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

            ha – I figured that out and was going to edit it for you but you beat me to the punch!