Cave And Commons

"Cave and Commons" is a BrickAndMortarDesignPattern? for office space described in Stewart Brand's book HowBuildingsLearn (pp. 172-174)

Each office workier has a private office, often small, which opens into a generous open area surrounded by many other private offices. The open area has a kitchen, some couches, sometimes tables for sitting around informally, and sometimes a working library, or at least a rack of current periodicals. You can shut the door of your cave and concentrate, or you can leave your door open and keep an eye and ear on who's coming and going in the commons, and whether the meeting or presentation going on there might be worth leaning in on.

Compare this with the XP facilities strategy described in chapter 13 of KentsBook [p.79]:

The best setup is an open bullpen, with little cubbies around the outside of the space. The team members can keep their personal items in these cubbies, go to them to make phone calls, and spend time at them when they don't want to be interrupted. [...] Put the biggest, fastest development machines on tables in the middle of the space (cubbies might or might not contain machines). This way, if someone wants to program, they will naturally be drawn to the open public space. From here everyone can see what is happening, pairs can form easily, and each pair can draw from the energy of the other pairs who are also developing at the same time.

If you can, reserve a little of the nicest space off to one side for a communal space. Put in an expresso maker, couches, some toys, something to draw people there.

It appears that the only disagreement is over whether the caves need doors.

-- JohnBrewer

The "Cave and Commons" pattern appears to have the emphasis on people working inside their caves, whereas XP requires them to do the work in the bullpen. Surely this is an important distinction?

I see it mostly as the contrast between 'concentration' and 'communication'. IvoryTower or WorldWideWeb? -- OleAndersen
I was struck reading this with a similarity with the physical structure of Mount Grace Priory in Yorkshire, England. Here each monk lived in a small two storied house with its own garden, water supply and toilet. Here each one worked and studied. The houses were arranged around a large court. One difference is that the monks did not come out at all except on special occasions. Their food was brought to them in such a way that they could not see the person who brought it. And they did not have access to the internet. It came to an end in the 1530's by order of King Henry VIII and the last abbott was executed (I think).

You can find out more at

-- JohnFletcher

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