The office furniture by OMA for UniFor is colorful and modular
A new collaboration between OMA and UniFor at Berlin’s Axel Springer Campus has evolved into a full-fledged office furniture collection to be unveiled during Milan Design Week 2022
In 2014, German publishing giant Axel Springer commissioned OMA to design its new Berlin headquarters to create work environments that “support the cultural shift towards becoming a digital publishing house”. The bespoke furniture for the project, produced by Italian office furniture specialist UniFor (part of Molteni Group), has now been expanded into a full furniture collection to be unveiled at Milan Design Week 2022.
A new collection of radical office furniture
The collection includes curved benches and tables, as well as partitions
“Axel Springer wanted a radical reinvention of the office, a place to attract Europe’s digital bohemian,” says OMA partner Philippe Braun, who worked closely with product designer Antonio Barone on the project’s interior design. Considering new methods of collaborative work, taking into account different team sizes and space usages, they designed an open-plan, multi-level facility with dynamic groups of desks and breakout areas with partitions, sofas and workstations.
“We wanted to avoid the ‘cool office’ trap that’s been widely promoted by American tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond,” explains Braun. “It was important that we inject a good dose of seriousness into the entire collection, avoiding the whimsical and just focusing on the essentials.”
It is not uncommon for UniFor to take bespoke furniture as the starting point for a collection. “The close collaboration with the best international architectural studios, in this case OMA, is a distinctive feature of UniFor’s way of working: the creation of our products is almost always linked to specific design and planning requirements,” says Carlo Molteni, President of the Molteni Group. “We realized that the elements designed by OMA represent a new way of experiencing the office space: no longer a place for individual work, but increasingly a place for conviviality. The uniqueness of the pieces convinced us that the collection could be translated beyond a single architectural project.”
OMA and UniFor: a decade of cooperation
The furniture series is characterized by pastel tones as well as clearly visible orange accents in combination with metal and black
OMA and UniFor began working together over a decade ago when the Rotterdam studio commissioned the company to design the marble bookcases for the Qatar National Library. In 2014, OMA co-founder Rem Koolhaas, as curator of the Venice Architecture Biennale, invited UniFor to come on board as one of the technical sponsors. From then on, OMA and UniFor have continued to collaborate on projects of various scales; The Principles collection is their latest collaboration.
“The experiment that started with the Axel Springer Campus has successfully created new ways of interaction within the office and is now available to a wider audience,” says Koolhaas. “We’re excited to see the modules in the Principles collection come together and be used in different work environments around the world.”
The collection is an evolution of OMA’s work in the more informal areas of the Axel Springer Campus. Composed of over 100 elements divided by size and type, it lends itself to many configurations. Key pieces, Barone explains, include the “tables,” which range in size from 0.1 to six square meters and are defined by a double-decker tabletop.
“We wanted to avoid the ‘cool office’ trap widely promoted by American tech companies in Silicon Valley and beyond” – Philippe Braun, OMA contributor
“Other key elements are the ‘spines’, an infrastructure characterized by linear and curvilinear footprints that can create partitions and pods of varying heights and levels of privacy,” he continues. The ‘Spines’ are part of a system to which shelves, desks and sofas can be attached. Other pieces include informal seating, soft islands and dividers with various accessories to add to each piece. “By combining and recombining the different families, the collection meets all the requirements of the modern office and work environment.”
The collection’s informal seating is made up of curved modular elements upholstered in high-tech sportswear fabrics
Materials include high-pressure laminates, perforated metal and high-tech sportswear fabrics. “We found these materials to be the solution that most streamlined and made sense of the original idea of scalability, flexibility, and virtually endless customization,” says Barone. “The collection is first and foremost about space: the simple, sometimes playful personality of the pieces makes them a versatile tool of interaction between user, furniture and space.”
Also striking (and slightly surprising) in the Axel Springer project is the bold use of color, which was further developed for the Principles collection. “We felt the need to add a level of freshness and playfulness to the normally neutral uniformity of the workplace setup without falling into the trap of corporate branding,” explains Barone. The thoughtful palette gives users the ability to customize and define the work environment.’
The future of work has been a constant topic of discussion throughout the development of the collection. “Both UniFor and OMA recognized the immense potential of this collection to support the changing nature of the workplace,” says Braun. “But also to take it beyond the office into the public space, which is increasingly becoming a place for working, meeting and exchanging ideas [way] like the office itself.’ §