Sub-theme 06: Building Change


Gibson Burrell, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
Mark Mobach, Wageningen University, The Netherlands

Call for Papers

“Suddenly a young stranger fled into our garden shed. He was followed by a group of aggressive youngsters carrying sticks. When entering our shed, they looked like hungry lions just before a fresh kill. I noticed the light switch to our shed. The only thing I could think of was blinking on and off with the light, hoping to create confusion. Needless to say, it did not work.”

This child, switching a light on and off in a contained space, hoping for desirable behaviour modification, might remind organisational scientists of ‘the experiments of light’ (Homans, 1950) at the Hawthorne Plant. Do organisations today still err in assigning morphogenic properties to spatial designs? Or might it even be possible to use organisational space to create better worlds? But for whom? Do not organisation theorists ‘confuse science with morality’ (Grodzins, 1951)?

Alexander (revealing his totalising valorisation of a temperate climatic zone) contends:

“Almost everybody feels at peace with nature: listening to the ocean waves against the shore, by a still lake, in a field of grass, on a windblown heath. One day … we shall feel the same about our towns, and we shall feel as much at peace in them, as we do today walking by the ocean, or stretched out in the long grass of a meadow.” (Alexander, 1979: 549)

However, ‘natural’ spaces have properties humans are yet unable to design even if architects do their utmost to design organisational spaces that approach this ideal. All over the world the rich and famous of contemporary organisations are immersed in surprisingly beautiful and impressive architectural designs. Buildings like Burj Khalifa, CCTV, Googleplex, and Guggenheim Bilbao are inspiring and energizing. All wonder-full places to be, but also intimidating. Many have devoted time in arguing that such spaces do work for organisations (e.g. Duffy, 1997) yet it is evident that buildings cannot change the fundamentals of an organisation. Clearly they most certainly can facilitate, hinder, or frustrate it (Kornberger & Clegg, 2003).

We invite papers on (the impossibility of) building change to be grounded empirically, or theoretically, or both. We seek to open the door on the unexplored and thus to discover new connections between organisation and space. However, we also encourage scholars to embed their work in historical examples and to relate to local case practices so as to stimulate cross-cultural and cross-national knowledge sharing. Multiple methodological perspectives on organisational spaces will be highly appreciated as well as work from various disciplines. In this context, we suggest the following considerations for authors:

  • Does a well-considered design of organisation and space have the potential to create a better world?
  • What is the current scientific evidence that such organisational-spatial interventions can be efficacious, successful, and even ground-breaking? In what way is it vulnerable to critique? Does it suffer from a lack of rigour?
  • To what extent is the contribution of buildings to organisational change contrary and deviant, perhaps even irrelevant?
  • What previously unrelated sources on the subject, contemporary and historical, might advance our common understanding on the subject of organisational space?



Alexander, C. (1979). The Timeless Way of Building. New York: Oxford University Press, 549.

Duffy, F. (1997). The New Office. London: Conran Octopus

Kornberger, Martin & Clegg, S.R (2003). ‘The architecture of complexity.’ Culture and Organization, 9(2), 75-91.

Grodzins, M. (1951). ‘Public administration and the science of human relations.’ Public Administration Review, 11(2), 88-102.

Homans, G.C. (1950). The Human Group. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company.


Gibson Burrell is Professor of Organization Theory at the University of Leicester. Previously at the Universities of Lancaster, Warwick and Essex (UK), he was Head of the School of Management at Leicester from 2003-2007. His book, with Karen Dale, ‘The Spaces of Organisation & the Organisation of Space’ demonstrates his interest in the field.

Mark Mobach is Professor of Facility Management. He combines positions at Hanze UAS Groningen, The Hague UAS, and Wageningen University (The Netherlands). Since 2013 he is leading ‘NoorderRuimte’, a Hanze centre for interdisciplinary research on spaces for users. His book ‘Een organisatie van vlees en steen’ has been characterised by its comprehensive analysis of organisation and space.

Posted On: June 8, 2014
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