The physical organization as equivocal message

Gerald L. Pepper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


This study expands our understanding of the importance of physical organizational space and the relationship between physical and social structure by emphasizing and demonstrating how social structure is physically contextualized. I examined the impact of a building designed specifically to enhance communication and creativity among workers and discovered that users of the building experienced the facility very differently than the designers intended. Specifically, employees struggled to reconcile their experiences with the new facility across five problematic themes: transition, openness, finances/layoffs, management, and the building itself, with the building serving a core, unifying function. The results are discussed in terms of how organizational physical space affords opportunities for material space use that may be unforeseen by designers. Workers' values and the impact of multiple stressors played key roles in the negative reactions to the new facility. J. J. Gibson's theory of affordances is used to explain the degree to which building design as equivocal message can predetermine communication outcomes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)318-338
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Applied Communication Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Building
  • Material Tensions
  • Organizational Structure
  • Physical Organization
  • Space
  • Theory of Affordances


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