London scientists feel the noise

Scientists at the Crick Institute in London have complained about noise. In 1797, an unexpected visitor to the English cottage of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge became a literary metaphor for unwanted distraction that disturbs creativity. The arrival of the so-called Person from Porlock, Coleridge wrote, caused him to forget the rest of Kubla Khan — the words of which he had been busy transcribing after they came to him in a productive dream — and the poem ends incomplete after 54 lines. Porlock is almost 200 miles from central London, but plenty of people are still knocking on the doors of the Francis Crick Institute, which opened as a base for biomedical research in the capital last year. And some of them are bringing distraction. Scientists working there, in spaces arranged around a central atrium, have complained that the open-plan design is too noisy and they can’t concentrate. Teething troubles? Probably, and the Crick is far from alone in trying to balance the promised benefits of open-plan office space — collaboration and idea sharing — with the inevitable downsides, including disturbances and lack of privacy. For although the trend in recent years has been firmly towards open-plan design […]

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