Working environments

A recipe for mediocrity

By Judy Robertson and Derek Jones

WARNING: This is an ‘anti-recipe’ (read with an ironic voice-over in your head).


Do you want to stifle your researchers’ creativity? Stunt their intellectual growth? Foster apathy where possible? Follow these few simple steps and mediocrity will be yours.

The principal aim of these ingredients is to remove agency from the users of a space – you don’t want agency if you want a predictable, controlled environment (Bandura, 2000). This also avoids any possibility of interesting adaption of space to suit users’ purposes or to enrich their relationships with a place (Brand, 1995).

We concur wholeheartedly with Tschumi’s (1994) statement: “There is the violence that all individuals inflict on spaces by their very presence, by their intrusion into the controlled order of architecture. Entering a building […] violates the balance of a precisely ordered geometry (do architectural photographs ever include runners, fighters, lovers?).   […] The body disturbs the purity of architectural order” (1994, p. 123).



  • Inflexibility
  • Tins of beige paint
  • Breeze block walls
  • Procedures in place of values
  • A Building Management System (BMS)


  1. Paint all the walls in the institution the same colour, preferably beige. Refuse to change this under any circumstances.
  2. Form a committee which must convene every time someone wants to pin paper on a wall.
  3. Lock all windows and remove the keys, or if possible install windows which can’t be opened.  Ideally, of course, there should be no windows at all – it helps the concentration.
  4. Automate all decisions about temperature or air quality, and if this is not possible then make sure that thermostats are controlled remotely by someone who doesn’t work in the building. The aim is to prevent building inhabitants from working in conditions they find comfortable. We applaud the Scottish Enterprise building in Bothwell Street, Glasgow, (now, alas, defunct) where the temperature was quite properly controlled by the ambient temperature in Manchester much further south.
  5. Decorate the walls with passive-aggressive notices spelling out exactly what people must or must not do to preserve the building in its pristine state.
  6. Ensure that you forget that the whole purpose of buildings is for people to use them. This is easily done by separating the management of buildings from the users and ensuring that the management is only concerned with the fabric, not the purpose of the building.
  7. Appoint building managers and administrators who love the building more than people, and can therefore be guaranteed to follow your policies rigorously. Impress upon them that their job is to protect the building from the infestation of people who are allegedly necessary for the university’s core business.
  8. Ensure that you have a fully automated Building Management System that ‘cannot possibly go wrong’. That way, when people observe that the building is overheating you can ignore this feedback and rely on a system to provide you with the ‘truth’.

Notes on ingredients

Serve with a pinch of salt.


Be careful – if you aim for mediocrity, you might easily achieve dangerous levels of unhappiness. This might in turn lead to ‘having to do something about it’. So aim for it being not bad enough to do something about, but bad enough to have an effect.

BITE: Recipes for Remarkable Research is available in paperback, hardback and as Open Access from:

Sense Publishers: Paperback | Hardcover | Free Open Access
Amazon: Paperback | Hardcover
Barnes & Noble: Paperback | Hardcover

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