When the organizers of Orgatec approached Vitra Chief Executive Officer Nora Fehlbaum about taking an entire hall at the biennial trade fair in Cologne, Germany, she declined. How would a single company fill out an entire 12,000 square meter hall into a cohesive story about its brand, even one as iconic as Vitra?
Upon reflection, Fehlbaum said she started to see it as an opportunity to curate an environment that went beyond office furniture; to gather like minded brands -- both within and outside the commercial office world -- into a fair-within-a-fair that would tell a larger story about work.
That was the genesis of Work, Vitra's bold, audacious vision for Hall 5 at Orgatec, which was praised by most as one of the most visionary exhibitions ever held at the show and panned by a few as disjointed and lacking the vibrancy of Vitra's usual stand at the event. Regardless of what visitors thought of the hall itself, it was a bold move by Vitra, which is no stranger to taking chances when it comes to design.
"What we faced was a 12,000 square meter hall and fair halls are not the loveliest places to design in," said Pernilla Ohrstedt, who designed the Vitra hall with Jonathan Olivares. "It need to feel as if it was intuitively different. In many ways, it was like a Hollywood sound stage; like a performance hall that needed a great event."
The design duo needed to start with a simple vision, said Olivares. They came up with this: What is Vitra presenting and what does Vitra stand for? Fehlbaum calls the overarching vision of the space Vitra's idea of a "Collage Office" -- a good way to define what Vitra did since collage is usually defined as a work of art created by pasting on a single surface various materials not normally associated with one another.
"When you are able to zoom out and look at the biggest possible picture, this really became a new furniture fair model where we could bring together (companies) that do not compete, but compliment each other," Olivares said.
To create Work, Vitra selected design, architecture and technology companies to share the exhibition space. Along with the host company, Work conveys a multifaceted picture of today's working world with an array of products, spatial elements and furnishing concepts. "With new technologies allowing us to work anywhere and at any time, the end of the office has been predicted time and again," said Fehlbaum. "Yet the office still has not disappeared. Why is that? Because the need for direct, real-world exchanges and interactions remains unabated -- and is even on the rise with the growth of virtual applications."
To be sure, Vitra was the star of its show. And instead of packing everything onto a single exhibition booth, the company spread its products -- current and new -- throughout what it called the Collage Office. The Collage Office consisted of six distinct areas, together designed to take visitors through a day in the life of a typical worker.
The Nomad & Take-Off area included a food truck and was meant to represent a worker arriving in an office. The office in this area was designed as a shared workspace. Home Base took the form of an open, intimate and flexible workplace that allowed for collaboration, concentration and personalization; one that can be tailored to a company's culture and personality. The Cafe was the social hub of the Collage Office -- a place for communication and interaction. Vitra created private office spaces within freestanding rooms. The company also created its own newspaper, "Office Perspective" for visitors in the Cafe to read. The Garden included rings of social seating where visitors could meet informally or listen to a presentation. Unplug was an area dedicated to reading, writing and thinking in an area made up of wood furniture that felt more residential than commercial. Finally, visitors to the Garage found hyper flexible furniture that could be moved, rolled or unfolded. It was a place that showed how Vitra views offices that need to be able to change quickly.
Throughout its Collage Office, Vitra introduced a number of new products. The AM Chair, designed by Alberto Meda, adds an entry level seat to Vitra's collection. It is a simple mesh chair with a dynamic armrests and a height-adjustable back. The CDS office table system by Antonio Citterio can be used in a variety of configurations: as a single table, a cluster of workstations, workbenches and meeting table, each in a fixed height version or sit-stand table. CDS included one of the most unique features found at Orgatec on any product: a simple screen that rolls up and down with the table like a shade that creates a barrier between workers regardless of the height of either desk. The Pacific Chair is new from designers Edward Barber & Jay Osgerby. It is a slick, European-styled full performance task chair. Vitra also updated its ID Chair by Antonio Citterio by adding a new, contoured seat. Vitra also had a few concepts, including the Chair Table by Konstintin Grcic, a table with a flip top that converted into a chair.
Surrounding the Vitra stand was a curated collection of like-minded companies. They included: art aqua, a company that brings water and green elements into buildings to contribute to healthy and efficient office environments; Artek, the furniture maker recently acquired by Vitra; Bulthaup, a maker of kitchen systems; Dinesen, a Danish company that makes wood products; Gantner, a tech company that works in the areas of access control, staff time and attendance, identification, entry and billing; Kvadrat, the textile maker that presented recycled polyester upholsteries; Laufen, which deals in bathroom fittings; Ruckstuhl, a company that makes flooring and room acoustics; Wastberg, a lighting company; Archilogic, which showed intelligent 3D models that make virtual reality, visual computing and web technologies accessible to all; IdeaPaint, with its dry erase paints; Mercedes-Benz, which presented its autonomously driving F015 car; Samsung, which presented its SMART workplace solutions that create connected office environments and support cooperative work; and Swisscom, a tech company that showed a workstation booking tool.
Taken altogether, Vitra's Work laid out a compelling vision for how work is changing and evolving, along with the products to support those changes. To think new thoughts, one needs new spaces, said Ohrstedt. And Fehlbaum said Collage Office was a way to bring all that new thinking together.
"Our product portfolio is made for collaging," said Fehlbaum. "And there is something special about an office. It is where a company's culture and work life happens. Offices allow a company to create its own identity."