Factory Office

Factory Office

As this year’s Orgatec comes to a close and local airports shepherd battle-hardened armies of salespeople and creatives back to their respective hubs, I reflect on some themes from this year’s show.

20406721The Office: a place of industry.

Vitra have been presenting an industrial feel for a couple of years with Jean Prouve and the Bouroullecs leading the way. This show very much continued where they left off. Unfinished metal frames, warehouse style plastic doorflaps to divide spaces, metal mesh side panels and screens hanging from pulleys that would usually be found on a factory floor. The ‘start-up feel’ is still flavour of the month as everyone wants to work at a coworking desk wearing jeans and trainers with no socks, whilst sipping lattés and eating carrot cake…

The industrial feel echoed through the fair this year with many brands acknowledging a factory floor setting, either with a new modular mesh shelving product or simply with the backdrop of their set design. If the Hacienda was still around I’d tell Tony to stick some big ply desks on one side and a coffee barista next to the DJ booth and Fac51 would become a coworking mecca.

img_2054Modularity… 

An important feature in architecture and interiors; the ability to create a grid format of interchangeable blocks allowing users the flexibility to increase or decrease in line with changing requirements. The latest modular trends at Orgatec include space dividing screens suspended by a ceiling mounted rail system, allowing screens to be slid around continuously to carve up spaces (see my Office 2030 blog). Black metal styled storage systems such as Wiesner Hager’s Cage product (below) and boxy storage modules with integrated desking, acoustic panels, soft seating and other features industrialised an office planning theme made familiar by Herman Miller’s Living Office, where soft seating peels off desks, which in turn peel off a modular storage system.

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The use of modular systems on exhibition stands (whether product or prop) firmly illustrates a desire to split up a large open plan commercial space with towering high storage as both a feature and a facility.

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In general, workplace furniture fashion is beginning to look like commercial exposed ceilings: stripped back to bare boned essentials, bolts and fixings proudly on display rather than hidden from view. Solid, rigid, mesh and modular. Carefully considered, then intentionally styled to look a bit rough round the edges. A bit like Jason Statham.

And Tom Dixon’s getting in on the act, with his first foray into the workplace. Aside from a promising chunky wooden trestle-legged team desk, his Boom task light makes no secret of its industrial DNA.

tom-dixon-office-furniture-tables-chairs-lights-accessories-british-design-london-uk_dezeen_2364_col_13Soften the blow

With all this harsh, technology driven metal framed office furniture, we need some softness to compensate. And following in the footsteps of Verpan, Walter Knoll – and more recently Gubi, there was a lot of dark opulent velvet upholstery and mid century vibes. Buzzispace seemingly had a personality transplant and you’d be forgiven for thinking their stand was actually of Danish heritage, with wooden framed easy chairs and muted velvet fabrics, long curtains and screens. Large numbers of plants and foliage are also needed to offset all that tough metal, so expect even more biophilic integration in the new wave industrial workplace.

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In spite of a return to metal frames, there’s still a strong appetite for wooden furniture. Soft linoleum (or linoleum effect) meeting table tops with wooden underframes are as popular as ever, with huge numbers of wooden frame breakout chairs, tables and bar stools launched. Hussl quietly slipped in a nice family of wooden framed chairs and barstools with a rather unique linoleum backrest. Nicely done.

The Scandinavians are still doing what they do best: beautiful wood and hand stitched leather combinations, with Fredericia looking the part. Meanwhile Poltrona Frau impressed with exquisite quality leather meeting and waiting furniture for high quality interiors.

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Swoon chair in velvet

Walter Knoll displayed a range of succulent leather and velvet furniture, with a great new linking meeting table system. In addition they tapped in to another theme which was large executive V shaped electric sit stand meeting tables, perfect for group discussions and ideal for video conference.

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Aside from these themes there’s still plenty of marble, black chrome, copper and brass – plus a wave of 3D style fabrics, tiles and textiles sweeping through. As ever, halls were awash with hundreds of clever stacking, folding, flipping and collapsing solutions- and the race is well underway to embed ever smarter data gathering hardware within furniture. ‘Millennials’ and ‘Digital Nomads’ are mainstream topics now and brands like Samsung, Google and Swisscom are developing IT products to optimise the way current and future generations use buildings and furniture.

But that wraps up my general thoughts on Orgatec this year. Ultimately wellbeing, communication and technology remain centre stage in the modern office and the stripping back of office design only emphasises that. With the fourth industrial revolution looming, it’s ironic that office design chooses a factory style design backdrop to personify itself. The creation of the Factory Office, the rise of smart tech, metric data harvesting and coworking means the future of the workplace is cool, edgy and exciting. And definitely not dead.

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