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In 1964, the iconic furniture design company Herman Miller unveiled an office plan unlike anything anyone had ever seen.
Called Action Office, it was the brainchild of Robert Propst, who was among the first designers to argue that office work was mental work and that mental effort was tied to environmental enhancement of one’s physical capabilities. Rather than a furniture item or a collection of them, Action Office was a proposition for an altogether new kind of space.
Most office designs at the time were about keeping people in place; Action Office was about movement. Advertisements for the system show workers in constant motion; indeed, the human figures in the images often appear blurred, as if the photographer were unable to capture their lightning speed.
Action Office was the happy result of an unusual collaboration. Propst had been thrown together with one of his near opposites—George Nelson, who grew to prominence by converting the ideas of modernism into effortlessly cool pieces of furniture. Propst was laconic, prophetic, intransigent, exuding the tight-lipped silence of the American West’s wide expanses; Nelson was a scotch-swilling bon vivant and raconteur.