BT is currently running an advertisement for its IP infrastructure that asks us to 'Prepare for tomorrow without creating the fioffice of the futurefl, ' where it shows confused and frustrated office workers rolling around an open-plan office space in ovoid 'podules' that resemble the long-defunct Sinclair C5. These workstation 'eggs' have keyboards that double as steering joysticks and flat screens on flexible arms coming down from the roof of the podule. One of the units has crashed and turned over and everyone looks thoroughly hacked off!
I understand the concept is to swing the readers' attention from the office and its furniture and place the emphasis on the technology. Alas, BT has got it really wrong with its tongue-in-cheek organic forms if the latest launches from furniture manufacturers are a portent of the future and ways of working.
If there is a theme to recent product launches, it must be that the straight line has taken over from the organic concepts that were at the fore in the past few years. This was particularly obvious at Orgatec 2002 in Cologne in October, where stand after stand was showing linear products - though there were some striking exceptions to this rule. Is this angularity purely aesthetic, or is it being driven by new working patterns or trends (benching, tabling, plug and play) influenced by technology? If so, what price BT marketing research?
Hard line Perhaps the most striking concept from the items launched by Vitra at Orgatec 2002 is Joyn. Consisting primarily of large tables or benches, which Vitra calls 'organisational tools that enable the table to be customised for specific work situations', it is the embodiment of the 'farmhouse table' concept, ideal for communication and a focus for the work/life, office/home ideal currently being promoted as a successful working method.
Designed by two young French brothers, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, this beam system on trestle-style legs is a radical departure from the dedicated workstation, though the slide-on/slide-off side screens and clip-on/off blotters delineate work areas when required.
Joyn follows in the tradition first established by Staverton and Ergonom, but has a much more relaxed feel, seeming far more dynamic and flexible in how it can be used, not being merely a plug-and-play bench.
Allied to the tabling are some interesting and, for some, slightly over the top - literally - additions. There is an excellent small 'hive' for individual work or study, reminiscent of a small study carrel and literally over the top, a mobile bridge construction that can be placed at any point along the run. This is presumably to give a more intimate feel to the work environment, perhaps more for effect than for any practical or psychological benefit.
Others have followed the bench concept in their own way, with Bulo releasing the beautiful Double You system. With exquisite simplicity, Hannes Wettstein has designed office furniture to meet the concept of both individual workstations and shared workstations, the collective workplace, or the 'non-territorial office', which can be used by various office workers in a multifunctional manner at any given time. Wettstein has devised two small tables, each of a different height, which can be combined in different ways when placed together. People can sit down at these tables and work either as a group or individually.
'Double You' allows its users to create a 'domestic office' or a 'nomadic office' as the need arises. The long table (up to 3.60m) can have its outside panel finished in lacquered steel. Alternatively, the steel can be textilecovered. The inner panel is finished in metallic-painted steel or the high-end version in inox. The accessories include a mobile seat - of very individual design - filing cabinets, pen carriers and even flower boxes!
In total contrast to the cool simplicity of Double You, Bulo commissioned Australian designer Danny Venlet to design Easy Rider for its Carte Blanche Collection. Easy Rider is a mobile desk-seat that resembles a giant baby-walker! The round seat rests on three castors and has been designed to serve as a place of retreat where users can withdraw with all their portables, laptop, mobile phone and so on. Surprisingly comfortable, Easy Rider is certainly a conversation piece, either for those using it solo or in a group that have trundled together for an impromptu meeting, still with the ability to use laptops, or as a statement piece to amuse and house guests. Please do not rule this item out until you have tried it!
Bene has launched the concept of Bene Coffice, similar to Bulo's Easy Rider only in that both companies realise that work is not only done at the desk or workstation but, more and more often, in a less formal and relaxed manner. Bene calls Coffice a 'furniture portfolio' for relaxed sitting but this concept is far more technically capable than the fun Easy Rider. It was designed by Johannes Scherr for relaxed sitting and communicating, or for working using the wide armrest where you can support a writing pad, files or a laptop. The armrest has a plugbox which contains a power point and a network connection for logging in to the Internet.
The Coffice range consists of an easy chair, two- and three-seater sofas with or without armrests, twist sofas, stools and benches. With the sofas and benches you can add screens, luminaires and flat-screen holders. Very much reflecting the angular trend (as opposed to the totally organic feel of Bulo's Easy Rider) Bene Coffice is designed for use within the office environment or in public spaces. This angular or linear trend is also seen in Bene's AL rectangular desk, which uses aluminium to create a light, elegant and hi-tech look. The AL Group won the Innovation Prize, sponsored by three German architectural journals, at Orgatec 2002.
Gesika brings contrast of materials and modern lighting with its new Zena desking system. The company advocates adding colour and light to the workstation by using variable-colour elements and changing light fields, giving the clean lines of this system an added sophistication.
Beyon is a desking system that first drew attention with its minimalist stand at Spectrum earlier in the year. Particularly interesting for its novel cable management, desk mobility and free-standing screens, Beyon has introduced Beyon Beam, with a shape that optimises the use of space and offers an unhindered surface with no restrictions where people can sit along its 6m length.
Bottom line As well as developments to old favourites, some new task chairs have appeared to add to the already massive selection available. One striking new addition is the Solis range from Wilkhahn. Perceptively identifying the fact that too highly styled an office chair can contribute to visual chaos in the office, Wilkhahn has designed the Solis range to follow simple geometric principles without sacrificing any elements of comfort or operation. Available in a number of models as you would imagine, from basic task chair through to executive level, Solis also comes in a version called Solis F, which sees the concept in its purest form - without losing any comfort. The 'F' stands for frame and this is embodied by a transparent high-performance fabric attached to aluminium profiles. Two curved braces in die-cast aluminium on both the seat and backrest provide the profiles with taut support to form a distinct frame. This technical precision, which is consistently linear, makes Solis F an aesthetic pleasure.
Sedus launched nine new items at Orgatec, eight chairs and one folding-leg table.
Following on the success of Open UP, its new chair Open Mind again provides a simple, clear line reduced to the essential. Matthew Seiler has designed a one-piece backrest frame directly linked to the seat-adjustment mechanism. In contrast, with a sense of fun, Sedus introduced Turtle Club - one of the striking exceptions to the linear movement I mentioned earlier.
Turtle Club comes in five colours on four filigree legs and is designed by Matteo Thun with reception and waiting areas, bars and communication zones in mind. There is a threelegged occasional table to complement the chair. The aluminium legs are available powder-coated in silver suitable for outdoor use, or with a polished finish.
As for developments to an old favourite, Herman Miller has introduced an upgrade option to the Aeron. Called Posturefit, the attachment delivers support in the lowerback area where the spine meets the pelvis.
Posturefit is available for all three Aeron chair sizes and can also be retrofitted on previously purchased Aerons.
Soft line Aptly called Guest, the new linear yet sculptural sofa is a new departure for Wittmann in the contract market. First shown at Orgatec, this sofa, designed by Gioia Meller Marcovicz, is 1,850mm long and is distinctive for its angular headrest and sloping arms. It is available through Enigma Furniture in the UK in a wide range of leathers and fabrics, with legs in wood finish, polished or matt chrome or black metal.
Vitra has added a new sofa to its collection. Art Deco in look, thanks to the particular use of tubular steel, the Visofa joins Visasoft, Visacom and Visalounge in the Soft Seating group. The wide seating and backrest cubes are connected via a beam of curved tubular steel with a shape reminiscent of cantilever bases.
The backrest is low, to allow sitters to rest their arms along it and turn to face other sitters during a conversation.
Although virtually all carpet manufacturers have something in their portfolios to highlight or contrast with this linear or angular theme, Shaw Carpets is notable for having launched a collection called 'Dressed to Kill' that can be used to dramatic effect, 'limited only by the designer's imagination'. These carpet tiles arrive boxed in random fashion to create different pattern combinations in each installation.
Very large repeats are created using the pattern design and the installation process as design tools. A structured similarity and geometry will exist but it is unlikely that the pattern geometry of a group of tiles will often be repeated. Rest assured that the colour palette is striking.
On the fabric front, along with some beautiful iridescent colours in its new ranges, Kvadrat is launching more retro design fabrics, some in conjunction with Maharam. Like Kvadrat, Maharam is a wellestablished firm known for re-issuing licensed archival designs by internationally renowned designers such as Charles and Ray Eames, Anni Albers, Verner Panton and Alexander Girard, a veritable melange of concise geometric patterns and vibrant colours, rigorous modernist expression and ethnic objects.
To mark the occasion of the centenary of the birth of Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, Kvadrat is also introducing a selection of his designs for furnishing textiles. For 30 years, Kvadrat has been adorning Arne Jacobsen's furniture, including The Swan and The Egg, with textiles but has never before produced one of his own designs.
Under the shared name of AJ Centennium, and as a tribute to Arne Jacobsen, Kvadrat is producing a collection of four designs for furnishing textiles: three furniture fabrics and one curtain fabric. The textiles were originally created as fabric prints, and one of the designs only existed in sketch form. Kvadrat has chosen only to use the original colours that Arne Jacobsen intended for the designs. The colour effects range from subtle and undefined to the bolder and more pronounced. Returning to the original colours emphasises the timelessness of his design, which is at the same time classic and modern.
Power line Wilkhahn has launched the ConAction range, conference furniture in which computer technology is integrated directly.
Currently comprising InterWall and ConsulTable, this allows meetings and conferences to have direct access to digital data, can process the data jointly and file it in the network.
InterWall is a mobile unit designed as an electronic flipchart and wall-presentation display, with the option of being touch-sensitive. Data is projected on to a 67-inch holographic glass display panel using a retractable rear projector. It is therefore possible to work on the panel directly without any shadows being cast. When the projection arm is folded up, the InterWall can be moved through doorways and along narrow corridors. ConsulTable has been designed ideally for two to four users, sitting or standing, and the 14 inch touchscreen can easily be pivoted by 180infinity to allow all users to view the screen clearly in this circular table.
Finally, here is an elegant solution to providing power and data to a desktop or conference table, while ensuring it remains unobtrusive. The Wave from A & H Meyer is constructed in aluminium and rotates to reveal a combination of power and data outlets configured as required. When not in use, Wave leaves a completely flush finish, providing an uncluttered worktop.
Base line I am sure that if you set out to disprove my linear hypothesis you could come up with examples of organic shapes that will determine the future officescape, for example the beautiful Icon chair from Nana Ditzel. Just as I am sure that the pendulum of taste and will swing back in the organic direction in due course.
Michael Everson is knowledge manager at TTSP READER ENQUIRIES A & H Meyer 1500 Bene 1501 Beyon 1502 Bulo 1503 Gesika 1504 Herman Miller 1505 Kvadrat 1506 Nana Ditzel 1507 Sedus 1508 Shaw Carpets 1509 Vitra 1510 Wilkhahn 1511 Wittmann 1512