In trying to work out how to lay out a computer equipped flexible learning center, one issue has been how much desk space each student needs. Computers are getting smaller, taking up less desk space and also replacing other desk equipment such as telephones and paper files. So could smaller desks be used and result in smaller offices?
The Australian Standard 3590.2-1990 "Screen based Workstations", defined a minimum desk top size of 1200 X 900mm, or 1.08 square metres. However, since the standard was developed, computers have got smaller.
The University of Melbourne guidelines, which recommend 2 square metres per student for a "Cabaret-Style" Collaborative Learning room. This includes the floor space for the student's chair and so works about the same as the Australian Standard.
A 19 inch CRT monitor is about 440 mm deep. An LCD monitor with a much larger 22 inch wide screen display is only 149 mm deep. A typical desktop PC case is 420 mm deep. Newer small form factor cases are 200 mm deep. Thin client computers are small enough to fit under the LCD monitor or to be attached to the back of it.
Reducing the depth of the PC by 300 mm would allow the desk to be reduced from 900 to 600 mm deep, reducing the table area to 0.54 m2, saving 33%. A depth of 600 mm may seem small for a desk, but I noticed this is the effective depth of desk I use in my home office. The space in front of the monitor is 400 mm deep and is about the maximum distance my arm can reach.
I can reach about 1000 mm side to side. But being right handed I can comfortably reach further on the right (500 mm), than left and notice that I place objects within 400 mm on the left. This would result in a desk 600 x 900 mm, being .54 m2, saving 50% on the standard size. This size desk would allow room for an LCD monitor, keyboard, mouse and one sheet of A4 paper.
Some further saving could be made if the desk is not rectangular. The far corners of the desk are effectively out of reach and therefore a triangle of 400 mm by 400 mm can be removed from each. This would save about another 0.16 m2. But this area could be added to each front end of the desk, making is slightly wider and curved around the occupant. After having done all this, you end up with the jelly bean desk shape used at RMIT Library, or if not a symmetrical desk, the Petal, from Moen Woodworks.
Apart from a more interesting shape which can fit more flowing room design, a curved desk increased the maximum width and depth of the desk without increasing the area. This has the effect of making a 600 x 900 mm desk appear to be 1000 x 900 mm. This would make the desk not appear as cramped to the user and may make it easier to meet organization standards.
A typical 470 mm wide Drawer File Cabinet, under a 900 mm wide desk would not leave room to sit. However, if the files were hung laterally, a very narrow drawer unit could be used. A shallow drawer under the desk could also be provided.
Sitting at a desk of half a square metre all day every day might be intolerable. But then perhaps office workers (and students) should not be sitting at their desks all day.