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Office Cubicle, Philadelphia

The concept of “pod” derives most directly from “cubicle”. A cubicle was never meant as a cube exactly, but had the intended purpose of providing some privacy and insulation from coworkers. One could decorate one’s cubicle. Likewise a pod. “Study carrel” is another influence. In some universities, a senior student or faculty member may be granted such a carrel as a kind of office, or personal workspace (PWS).

The competitive Pod Maker, in this science fiction, is providing office workers with options in some Great Outdoors. The units tend to be free standing. One might imagine adding wheels in which case we’re closer to the Business Mobile (BizMo for short). Office workers (officers) roam around, perhaps parking for extended periods. A roving company might fill a parking lot, perform some work, then move on. Construction companies often operate this way, with officers based in trailers. Members of the architectural firm are more likely in offices.

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Catalog of Pod Designs

Those making a living in interior design will be quick to point out that open indoor spaces, like factory floors, have often been the rule. Cubicles are more the exception than the rule, in movies about busy newspaper rooms. The journalists have their desks, but also need to compare notes. A typical office space lines the perimeter with windowed offices with an open space in the center. In addition we have the monitoring desks, more typical for security personnel and nursing stations. Hotel reception and high rise reception desks help round out our Pattern Language.

The school child is customarily provided with a temporary desk in a classroom, with seating organized in rows and columns. Some science fiction turns these desks into workstations, and indeed, the computer lab and even the language lab have helped each student gain access to equipment. The dividing line rarely crossed however, is the one between high rise office tower and high school. We do not typically organize high schools in the form of office towers, with each student given the privacy and luxury of some personal workspace. File management is not usually accomplished through a command line shell or graphical user interface until later, in the college dormitory, or at home. The high school itself suggests the self contained backpack, and maybe a locker, for each student. Unless it’s a boarding school, in which case a personal study space may be gleaned.

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Student Worker

Thanks to telecommunications, a student may participate in a series of meetups, in different groups with different instructors, without needing to move from room to room. The pod is close to shared maker studios (shared activity rooms), a cafeteria, restrooms, recreational facilities.

A major question regarding any pod is whether it doubles as a dormitory. Do students sleep in them? The typical submarine or other naval craft separates the sleeping quarters from the various posts above and below decks. Retreat to your bunk when not on duty. Report to the machine room, or the galley, as assigned. Sleeping and studying, on the other hand, have a time-honored relationship, as a student will typically read, or view curriculum materials, until nodding off. Studies show the hypnagogic state may be conducive to some forms of knowledge absorption.

PWS 284, Magnolia Avenue

Clearly one’s relationship to a work/study pod has much to do with one’s coworker and family relationships. Is this a family business? Do you learn the material alongside other family members? Some families work and study together, but a great many go their separate ways throughout the day. Even though all have a commitment to learning a language, they’re expected to do so in different ways. The refugee child rides a bus to some local high school, and gets a locker. The father takes a night shift guarding some parking lot. The mother cleans hotel rooms or houses. They may not see a lot of one another.

Integrating family life within a refugee camp setting is one of the bigger challenges facing today’s designers. The role of telecommunications is becoming vital. The refugees may have been living in motor vehicles. More likely they’ve had some makeshift shelter solution built from scavenged materials. Providing much needed educational services within a refugee camp is difficult. One often needs to recruit work crews but where and how do students volunteer? How is agriculture and animal husbandry involved? Does the camp engage in any industries? What kinds of private enterprises will flourish? Might there be some use for pods?

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Encampment, Google Maps

In my tours around Cape Town, I was taken to some of the prototyping sites. Yes, I saw the school made from shipping containers. However, no mass produced shelter solutions by any pod companies were in evidence. This was before the turn of the millenium. I was thinking in terms of GST even then, having gotten started in Cairo with that first paper for my team. My mother was working with the Zabaleen in the south of Cairo (Christian Coptic) while my father worked in the Egyptian Ministry of Planning. They stayed there for many years. I got in two visits. Cape Town was not a family headquarters but was close to Maseru, which was. My own nuclear family was based in Portland, Oregon by then, whereas my parents had moved from Cairo, to Dhaka, to Bhutan, before settling in Lesotho.

The reason high schoolers need more of a personal workspace is because learning to code takes alone time and concentration. Busy environments that endlessly interrupt one’s train of thought are not conducive to programming, or even technical reading. Study requires quiet, not perpetual excitement and noise. The studious retreat to the library, but in an age when the library is online, one tends to want a personal file system, meaning a command line with personal files. One has projects. The locker and backpack configuration is no longer suitable, even if one sometimes works in the fields.

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Another reason schooling is changing is because of tourism. A nomadic lifestyle requires moving between hotels, hostels, dorms, guest houses. “Where do I charge my devices?” Perhaps in one’s truck. Older students may drive trucks a lot of the time. That’s how some come to leave their refugee camps and get to see more of their world.

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