MDW19: An Interview with Konstantin Grcic

Over many years Vitra has had a productive relationship with designer Konstantin Grcic on the development of concepts and products for flexible office environments. It is in this context of a future office scenario that Rookie was designed, an unconventionally simple chair. Minimal adjustments, but immediate comfort were the goals. I had the opportunity to sit down with Konstantin in Milan at Salone del Mobile to discuss the future of office culture, the flexibility that it will require, being an outsider, and the power of a rigorous collaborative process.

Vitra exhibition at Salone del Mobile 2019 \ Photo courtesy of Vitra

How do you think spaces can be changed and how can spaces become approachable through the use of product design?

I think products inside any space make a big impact on the space, in terms of atmosphere, organization and function, of course, identity. If we speak about furniture making, not the smaller world of objects – then, I think the impact can be even higher. I think that in furniture, there’s the large, the middle and small size furniture and furniture that are more products and some furniture that are almost architectural. I like the latter category of furniture that is actually almost a space in itself.

A space inside the space. I think it’s an interesting category that has had quite a comeback in the last decade or decades because in, especially in work, in work places, we have to deal with very large open space, open plan spaces, to organize them, to give them function, to create an identity inside these spaces – these types of spatial, architectural furniture come into use. At the same time, they remain very flexible. That’s another important aspect of large offices and big open plan spaces. Nowadays, they need to be conceived in a way that they remain flexible. There is a small project team, and then the need for people working on that projects grows almost overnight an extra 20 people – and you have to be able to adapt to that. So I think that’s become an interesting issue.

Going to the opposite category of furniture, still furniture but furniture closer to product. Like maybe the one chair that we’re presenting here, Rookie, an office chair, a task chair and deliberately one that is quite small in size and simplified or reduced in terms of what function or what it can do. Not a kind of seating machine that can do everything with adjustments all over but really quite a discreet little chair with the key functions providing comfort in a flexible office setting.

It doesn’t need to be calibrated by NASA.

Exactly. As much as these chairs, with so many functions, you can calibrate them perfectly to you, but very often, probably more often than not – they are not adjusted, adjusted improperly, sat in by other people, etc. Looking at the furniture I designed for Vitra, I spoke about the larger architectural scale that’s probably hack-a-desk system that is a little, almost like a little cubicle, you can put many together, or wheel one in a corner and you could fold them and store them away. Then Rookie. And a third project I did, and I’m quite happy we were able to do it here inside this company is the Stool Tool. It’s a stool and it’s made in plastic. Basically, it’s made like a bucket, an upside down bucket, so you could then stack them. And the stool has two levels. And then two levels mean, you could sit on the lower level and have the upper level as a little work surface or you use the upper level as something to lean on. Or you use the upper level as a high stool, or use the whole thing as a side table with two levels. It’s this thing that’s not really defined in what it is exactly, but comes into being whatever you need. So you may have a stack of them, and unpack them for a short meeting – five people. And they all sit on – for a short meeting, comfort is not the prime issue. Flexibility is the prime issue. And this thing – yes it’s product, but it’s quite monolithic volume. I wanted to do that – because these little things, the volume helps them to have a certain presence. They need that.

Rookie \ Photo courtesy of Vitra

It’s really interesting to me that the changing modes of working in offices is directly leading to new and different types of furniture that didn’t exist before.

There are many parallel worlds within an office. So it’s not that the office is all one thing, or all the other thing – it’s a little corner that is a living room, and then there’s the cafeteria, and then there’s the hard-core work stations, and there’s the stand up meeting desk, and there’s the bean bag somewhere – I think the real liberation is that we now accept an office with so many different needs. A work day includes all these different tasks at different times. Sometimes you’d rather be on your own, and you need silence, and the other situation is, maybe you’re still on your own but it’s nice to be in an environment where the others are, and sort of need that buzz of people around you. I think I enjoy that.

Rookie \ Photo courtesy of Vitra

Everything is meant to be changed for an event, a work session, or all hands group thing. I think that’s the way a lot of different professions are moving, because everybody is meant to take on so much more. It’s really interesting how spaces really tend to follow the of the model of the company.

Let’s talk a bit about the process and development of your new chair – what has been the process and experience of working with Vitra, and what future things may be in store?

The process is probably best described as an ongoing dialogue, debate, discussion between us, Vitra and me. Vitra, they are professionals. They know so much more about offices and product than I do, so what can I contribute? I can contribute thinking out of that box. I’m taking the deliberate role as an outsider. I can feed Vitra with ideas, proposals, questions, that they, in the best case, they wouldn’t be able to think those ideas themselves, or ask these questions themselves. That’s how we’re trying to do projects, and the process of developing products for a company like Vitra is a very thorough process. Let’s take a risk here and there, or let’s turn things upside down and see what happens. Ask those questions, “what if?” – but it’s not – I don’t want to make it sound too easy and too playful because it’s really a rigorous process, but that’s what makes a good relationship between Vitra and designers.

Rookie \ Photo courtesy of Vitra

You both bring a different type of rigor. They have the rigor towards quality and making sure everything keeps moving – and you put that same rigor towards pulling ideas from your experience.

Yes, this process is most important to not only enact ideas, but also to challenging creative thinking, and in doing so make everything more honed.