Orgatec, the huge biennial office furniture fair held in Cologne, is the best place to identify 'office trends'. This year it was bigger than ever: 1146 exhibitors from 39 countries, and 79,000 visitors. True, visitor numbers were down compared with 1996, but the last fair included a clutch of technology halls. This year Orgatec emerged as a design event only. What it trailblazed is less clear.
Recently manufacturers have had to run hard to keep up with changes in working practices and a tough economic climate. Simplicity, mobility, flexibility and economy have been the watchwords, yet there are no technological changes which would justify a wholesale chucking out of existing furniture. Hence the contradictions.
The passion for elegantly simple table-based furniture was everywhere, but so too was a cluttering of caddies and trolleys and auxiliary worksurfaces - 'adding value', but defeating simplicity in the process. The manufacturer with the nerve to show a simple working table and leave it at that, Kokuyo of Japan, came up with the best system in the show.
There was a craze for 'space management' systems; gazebo-like constructions used to create rooms-within-rooms in open plans. Voko, K+N, Gumpo, Steelcase and many others had them. But, aside from their novelty, these looked suspiciously like a solution in search of a problem.
Simpler space-dividers are more likely to be the way of the future. Fritz Hensen led the way with a screen in perforated aluminium tubing that can snake and roll up, through which some of the light filters and some of the noise doesn't. Not new as a concept though: Hensen has done it before, with cardboard.
There was a whiff of retro throughout this Orgatec. Vitra showed the Panton Chair recreated in plastic, and the Eames Plastic Chair in polypropylene. Ahrend showed the original Mehes desking system, 26 years old, along with recent versions. And Wilkhahn's new Avera reception seating was clearly Eames-inspired.
Among working chairs, Wilkhahn showed the seminal fs Line, improved by having a version with height-adjustable arms: low arms always spoiled the original. And Vitra had a new plastic version of the wonderful Meda chair, half the price of the aluminium model and with a depth-adjustable seat.
Vitra also had Bellini-designed Ypsilon, which proclaims a new credo: the reclining position is the best for vdu work. A new concept in one sense, but proclaimed years and years ago by the doyen of ergonomists, Etienne Grandjean.
In all, the exhibition seemed to be holding back, either because of worries about the world economy, or in order to present a galaxy of new design at the Millennium Orgatec 2000.
DESIGN: ANTONIO CITTERIO
DESIGN: MARIO AND CLAUDIO BELLINI
The Vademecum is height-adjustable from 60-120cm, adaptable to working sitting or standing, or resting. Shown with the Ypsilon chair, which also adapts to all sitting positions, including leaning back - now claimed to be the most ergonomic position for vdu work. Vademecum and Ypsilon were shown as prototypes at Orgatec.
Tel: 0171 408 1122
OFFICE SYSTEM: AD HOC MONO WALL
DESIGN: ANTONIO CITTERIO, GLEN OLIVER LOW
Essentially a service wall teamed with mobile tables. The wall houses the computer and cabling, leaving the tables free. For vdu work the tables are placed next to the wall, and wheeled away for other jobs. First launched at Orgatec '96, the Mono Wall has been updated with more components.
Tel: 0171 408 1122
OFFICE SYSTEM: MINAMO
Large maple-veneered plywood working tables: visually light and relatively lightweight. The leg frames are aluminium, and so is the exceedingly neat cabling tray clipped beneath the worksurface. The storage cubby-holes are wood and translucent glass. Componentry is minimal.
Tel: (0211) 323 7124 (Dusseldorf)
DESIGN: HANS SANDGREN JAKOBSEN
FOR: FRITZ HANSEN
Privacy minus the boxed-in effect, as light filters through the slats. The Viper screen, made of aluminium tubing linked with a hinge, can be built into an endless wall by clicking-on more tubes. It curves into any required vertical shape, and can be rolled up. Available in anodised or black lacquered closed/perforated aluminium, claimed to provide some sound insulation.
Tel: 0171 837 2040
PARTITIONING: WIP (WORK IN PROGRESS)
FOR: KOENIG + NEURATH
Gazebo-like wip needs no fixing to walls, floor or ceiling. It consists of a frame structure (with power/data cabling channels), connection nodes and supporting tubes. Wall panels and roof elements are available in a selection of heights and styles. Labelled a 'space management system', it creates cellular spaces within open plans.
Tel: 0181 658 2247
OFFICE SYSTEM: COMPACT OFFICE
DESIGN: Joahannes Karl, Kai Stania
Many desking and storage units on wheels, plus a wall-panel, add up to the Compact Office. The units can be wheeled around, or hung on the wall. The work surfaces are height-adjustable, some tables up to work-standing height (72-113cm). The leg frames and storage units are in powder-coated aluminium, the work surfaces wood or laminate.
Tel: 0171 689 1234
OFFICE SYSTEM: NOMOS
DESIGN: FOSTER ASSOCIATES
Nomos has been updated. The new elements include a wire-managed leg, translucent thermoplastic screen panels, and slimmer laminate and glass tops - the latter now in a choice of either bright green or clear.
Tel: 0171 436 5916