It’s virtually a given that office planning should focus on people. However, major considerations worldwide, such as digitalisation, sustainability and health concerns, make planning more complex than ever. In a virtual building, Wilkhahn is now showing what a future-proof office environment could look like if planned along the principles of the human-centered workplace. To serve as an example, an office space of just under 1,200 square metres, has been created in the middle of Nordhavn, a former industrial site in Copenhagen. It is people-centric and opens out into the urban environment, which is currently becoming one of the prototypes of an urban space for the future. We spoke to Georg Thiersch from studio 1zu33 and Frederik Bellermann from Wilkhahn about the concept and how the virtual project was pulled off.
Georg, as an expert in brand worlds, you know how to make a brand’s core values visible. With 1zu33, you’ve already developed and come up with a whole host of showrooms and stores for brands from the interior-design sector. What interested you about the Wilkhahn brand in particular?
In terms of office furniture manufacturers, Wilkhahn is something of an institution. As a family-run company, Wilkhahn has, for generations, stood for exceptionally high-quality products and a corporate philosophy where products aren’t developed in a vacuum but always as part of a broader design context and mindset. Products are based on workplace concepts and don’t just extend way beyond the single piece of furniture or series. They create a particularly outstanding environment within a company, which, particularly for architects and planners, but also for consumers themselves, serves as an inspiration and a point of reference to identify with an employer. Wilkhahn is currently boosting these points of reference with a special focus on communicating with architects and planners, but also end customers. A new type of communication is emerging.
A new type of communication – that sounds like a perfect fit with your portfolio…
It certainly is. 1zu33 stands for the sensitive development of strong spatial communication concepts for companies with a long history and sense of identity. In our case, collaborating with Wilkhahn on a new type of communication based on the company’s strong roots is especially exciting.
You developed a virtual building for Wilkhahn, which isn’t a showroom, but illustrates the holistic approach of a human-centered workplace in all its dimensions based on a fictitious company. How did this project differ from your usual approach?
During this project, we deliberately tried to emulate the process of developing a real workplace. During an extensive pre-concept phase, we defined a virtual user of the rooms with personalised workplace requirements in a very broad usage spectrum to ensure that it could be a blueprint for other projects. We carried out the design process within this usage spectrum just as we would have done for a real project and drew up plans that were sophisticated down to the last detail. The key difference to a real project is, however, the customisable scalability of each workspace so that other planners and architects can use the project as the basis for their own plans.
The virtual building in Copenhagen is a model for a holistic idea that works in reality and in other places around the world. What benefit can architects and planners gain from this digital projection when they plan projects in the real world?
As I said, the ability to convert it from a virtual to a real project was absolutely vital. Architects and planners can use each part of the virtual workplace like a tool and adapt it to their needs in terms of dimension and design accordingly. The functional spectrum of the virtual workplace is broad. It ranges from single-person offices where people can work in peace to very versatile rooms for think tanks to workspaces that can be furnished as desired. And then, there are lots of different options for interactive spaces. This choice allows architects and planners to adapt almost any requirement to a real workplace.
Frederik, Wilkhahn’s human-centered workplace gives us a glimpse of the future and shows us what offices where we also enjoy working could look like in tomorrow’s world. How did you bring a fresh approach to an issue that Wilkhahn has long had on its agenda?
We’ve been wondering for some time now how to design our products so that they can make as positive an impact on the design of future-proof workplaces as possible. This vision helped us to develop a clear approach. The human-centered workplace unites the core, overarching aspects and therefore provides a point of reference. Its purpose is to allow us and our customers to ask the right questions. When developing concepts and planning people-centric workspaces for the future, we believe it’s vital to look at the personal usage contexts. By asking these questions, we see ourselves as setting trends for modern and agile workplaces.
From the urban environment, the neighbourhood, the building and all the way to the furniture. To be human centered, each level requires different ideas. What needs to be factored in for the furniture, which, after all, comes into direct contact with the people using it? What role does design play?
It’s common knowledge that office furniture plays a major role in making a company attractive. Because the workplace is a visible expression of corporate identity. Whether it’s deliberate or not, it reflects the company’s attitude, system of values and organisation. To be seen as attractive, an identity needs to be clear and distinct from other companies. Which is why, in this case, design is required that stands apart for its continuity, clarity and consistency above and beyond fast-lived fads. What’s more, good design adds to people’s well-being. It reduces stress, encourages physical activity and therefore makes people fitter. And last but not least, good design immediately indicates quality and sustainability.
A workplace’s feel-good factor isn’t just added value from a health and social standpoint. For businesses, it can also help turn a profit. What considerations are decisive in this case and how can office planning provide the right foundations?
Happy people are more productive people. But, of course, the feel-good factor isn’t something that can be expressed in figures. Nevertheless, there are aspects that clearly play a big part. For example, people who are allowed to make their own decisions and shape their working day flexibly are healthier, more productive and more relaxed. Recreational areas also contribute significantly in two ways. Firstly, when people alternate between sitting, standing and moving about it’s good for their bodies. Secondly, informal interaction with co-workers and a deliberate culture of taking breaks are important for their health and well-being. As a rule, the better an office concept can respond to different situations and preferences, the greater the feel-good factor and productivity are.
To wind up the interview, we’d like to ask you a personal question Frederik. If you could pick just one object, an item of furniture or an accessory for your workspace, what would you select and why?
I’d say the AT Mesh, which is the best ergonomic task chair in my view. The Coupé, which Annie Tribel from France developed for Wilkhahn at the end of the 1960s, perfectly embodies the spirit of the human-centered workplace. It’s a futuristic-looking seat shell with in-built lighting to suit preferences and has a phone. It was destined for a café – and it’s no coincidence that seminal working environments embrace elements of the hospitality industry. It’s all part of feeling welcome – and not just in a small workplace kitchen with chill-out zone.
Georg – what would you choose?
Well, a good cup of coffee has always been important to me, but today, quite independently of our collaboration with Wilkhahn, it’s good seating. A chair that helps me to cope with what is an unhealthy posture all day long, or encourages me to alternate between sitting, standing and walking… I believe movement is the key to a healthier working day and it all starts when you’re sitting down.
Thanks very much for talking to us.
Click here to read the digital human-centered workplace brochure.
Click here to visit studio 1zu33’s website.