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A fascinating design history of the filing cabinet

Fast Company Adapted with permission from The Filing Cabinet: A Vertical History of Information by Craig Robertson, published by Minnesota University Press “…The filing cabinet emerged at the same time the skyscraper was becoming a cultural symbol that presented capitalism and modernity as distinctly American projects for the 20th century. As vertical structures, the skyscraper and the filing cabinet stacked discrete horizontal units (floors containing offices; drawers containing folders and papers). This stacking was intended to serve two main purposes: to reduce the structure’s horizontal footprint and to facilitate access to the units. Stacking, as opposed to mere piling, invoked order. In contrast to a pile, which leads to disorganization and congestion, the vertical was intended to provide structure, to organize through constraint. Through coercion, verticality would force activity and objects into designated spaces; the skyscraper as a vertical structure was a space organized to facilitate the flow of people and information. Inside skyscrapers, changes in the design and use of desks in the early 20th century show how the office was rethought of as a site to facilitate the flow of paper. The emergence of a “flat-top” desk and the vertical filing cabinet offered a coordinated rethinking of the relationships between paper and work and between storage and retrieval. The efficiency-based focus on flow and movement made storage a particular kind of problem. Ideas about workflow positioned storage as a sedentary state in which papers would take up long-term residence in a cabinet or desk. As a leading proponent of office efficiency put it, “at best, any type of storage system is a passive agent in business..”

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