Lessons in office design from Robert Moses

Robert moses at desk photo
Public Domain Robert Moses at work

The image of Robert Moses is having a bit of a bit of a polishing these days, as Jane Jacobs gets blamed for NIMBYism and gentrification and everybody misses the man who Got Things Done. He certainly did, and was ruthless in his drive for efficiency. In The Power Broker, Robert Caro's unpickupable (because weight) but unputdownable (because content) biography of Moses, Caro describes his office in 1928, including his desk:

It wasn't a desk but rather a large table. The reason was simple: Moses did not like to let problems pile up. If there was one on his desk, he wanted it disposed of immediately. Similarly when he arrived at his desk in the morning he disposed of the stacks of mail awaiting him by calling in secretaries and going through the stacks, letter by letter, before he went on to anything else. Having a table instead of a desk was insurance that this procedure would be followed. Since table has no drawers, there was no place to hide papers; there was no escape from a nagging problem or a difficult-to-answer letter except to get rid of it in one way or another. And there was another advantage: when your desk was a table, you could have conferences at it without getting up.

I like the idea of giving your problems no place to hide. And go do New York and you can see the results of his efficiency everywhere; the enemies he wanted to crush and the neighborhoods he wanted to demolish had no place to hide either.

Tags: New York City | Wayback Machine | Work


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