Next week, Orgatec will be upon us as it opens in Cologne, Germany. For decades it has represented the latest and greatest in contract furnishings, mostly from European makers. Many considered it the most respected office furniture event in the world. But this year's biennial furniture show feels different; less important. The world of cutting-edge workplace design (and the way companies work) has decidedly shifted to the United States, and with it most of the latest and greatest furniture design that goes along with it.
Will Orgatec ever be relevant again? Doubtful.
Orgatec organizers are expecting attendees going to the fair to think about ideas as much as the furniture on display. That’s an interesting concept and probably a little late. Orgatec, rather than displaying lots and lots of new and innovative furniture, will be “idea” heavy. For example, one hall will have space devoted solely to architects and designers where a combination of exhibitions and lectures will be held. Yawn.
Orgatec, which starts Tuesday, Oct. 23 and runs until Saturday, Oct. 27, will be larger than it was two years ago, covering eight halls (including the addition of halls 11.2 and 10 for this fall's show). But that is totally misleading if you are coming to the show just to see the latest in office furniture. A few of those halls include the “big idea” presentations (not all in English). And, as usual, Vitra has a hall all to itself. At least they still believe in Orgatec (and parties).
Orgatec is definitely still important - mostly to Europeans of course. It used to be the place to go to see what was coming next for the workplace. Trends were set in Orgatec. New products like the Aeron chair were introduced there first. Mostly, this isn’t the case anymore. important new product launches mostly happen at NeoCon in Chicago - if they happen at an event at all. Up-and-coming office furniture makers can still be found here and there in Cologne, but no more than at the China International Furniture Fair in Guangzhou or Shanghai.
Meanwhile Orgatec will try to be the arbitrator of “big ideas” that are shaping the workplace, debating topics like co-working, co-living, the war for talent and open offices. All important issues, but in a forum that may not be perfect. And a long time after these discussions began in the U.S.
Organizers believe this focus on work culture, work processes and work environments will be a big draw. It might be, but It’s a little like going to Nashville to hear the best in classical music. You probably wouldn’t.
As far as furniture is concerned. Most of the American makers have given up on participating directly in Orgatec. With the notable exception of Humanscale and Haworth, a holder of lots and lots of European name plates, American’s and American companies will be in short supply.