Chinese suppliers


How the Medici, monks, and the British Empire shaped your office


The coronavirus pandemic has forced most people to create an office space of their own – whether by devoting a room in our homes for work, sitting socially distanced in common areas or just creating a “Zoom worthy” corner in a bedroom.

As a scholar who researches and designs learning and workspaces, I’m aware how the modern-day workplace was shaped over several centuries. But few people may know that the origins of the office can be found in the monasteries of medieval Europe.

Early origin in monasteries

Beginning around the fifth century, monks that lived and worked in monasteries preserved ancient culture by copying and translating religious books, including the Bible, which was translated from Hebrew and Greek to Latin.

The workspaces during this time consisted mainly of a table, covered with cloth to protect the books, and a writing room, or “scriptorium” in Latin. It was common for monks to stand before their writing desks in the scriptorium – a practice that has come back into fashion with the advent of the standing desk in recent years.

Only during the Renaissance did the chair-and-table combination start to be seen in workspaces.

In 1560, Cosimo I de’ Medici, who later became the grand duke of Tuscany, wanted a building in which both the administrative and judiciary offices of Florence could be under one roof. So he commissioned the building of the Uffizi, which in Italian means “offices.”

The lower two floors of the Uffizi were designed as offices for the Florentine magistrates that were in charge of overseeing production and trade, as well as the administrative offices. The top floor was a loggia – an area open on one or more sides.

The Medici family grew an art collection on the top floor of the Uffizi. The loggia underwent various renovations to house statues and paintings, until it grew into a vast art collection and gallery. Today the entire building is an art museum.

Government, merchants, and commerce