The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Building 20 — made of wood in 1943 when steel was in short supply — was supposed to be razed immediately after World War II. But it housed so many groundbreaking ideas that it stood until 1998.
What was Building 20’s innovation secret? Architectural author Stewart Brand asked former occupants why Building 20 – of all the places at MIT, or in the world – had hatched so many innovations. Here’s what they told him: “Windows that open and shut at the will of the owner!…The ability to personalize your space and shape it to various purposes. If you don’t like a wall, just stick your elbow through it….We feel our space is really ours. We designed it; we run it. The building is full of small microenvironments, each of which is different and each a creative space.”
In a nutshell: because the building was considered temporary – and was therefore extremely low-tech when it came to all things wiring and HVAC – inhabitants were literally in control of their collaborative climates. And they were unafraid to damage property, knowing the building was due for demolition anyway. The takeaway, in terms of promoting team effectiveness, is simply to remember how powerful a tool workspace context can be. Yes, the people in the room matter. But so does the room – even the windows.