Furniture company takes its responsibilities further than the finished product
Furniture company Vitra's holistic approach to design centres on developing healthy, sustainable and productive workplaces that are helping to enhance the way we work; an intelligent and much-needed scheme to stimulate the lacklustre economy. Although their Citizen Office concept was put together as far back as the 1990s, it is now coming to fruition with a new micro site to demonstrate how and why it works.
So what makes an office more productive for a company and more enjoyable for workers? Vitra believe that rooms and furniture have a real impact on the working performance, motivation and health of staff, and have been using their products and concepts for over three decades to enhance businesses in this way.
For their numerous office projects, Vitra work together with teams of experienced specialists in effective design, including consultants, interior designers, light and acoustic planners, designers and office planners. They claim that their Citizen Office is ‘the office of options', a design concept that takes the needs of the company just as seriously as those of its employees. As they themselves state, ‘architectural psychologists have proven the correlation between office design, well-being and employee performance: feeling at ease makes people more motivated and productive.'
They address contemporary issues, methodologies and technologies surrounding the workplace, i.e. digitalisation, globalisation, diversity and sustainability, and use this knowledge to enhance the effectiveness of their products and concepts.
They also use empirical evidence to mould their designs around, such as this observation from Sandy Pentland, MIT: "One-on-one discussions among colleagues are more than two and a half times as important for success than is increased access to information" (source: The Influence of Social Signals on Business Life). In response to this notion, their meeting room designs encourage short, efficient discussions by installing tall tables to stand, rather than sit beside. Furthermore, the importance of moving around is recognised and implemented by using a variety of forms of seating.
In a Citizen Office, the workers decide autonomously which rhythm, location and form is right for their respective activity. It accommodates undisturbed, concentrated individual work as well as communicative teamwork.
Vitra states that: "An office is a living space with a complex infrastructure - much like a city. That is why it cannot simply be furnished, but has to be planned. A Citizen Office consists of a central Office Forum - comparable with a town's marketplace - and workstation areas organised around it, which are similar to districts of a town." Moreover, they claim that workers in a Citizen Office are more productive: "They feel good, stay healthy and are motivated to succeed in teams as well as in concentrated individual work - the bottom line is improved business performance."
Indeed, on an economic level a Citizen Office effectively cuts costs by making more efficient use of the existing office area, while the better working conditions which in turn increase the productivity of employees has obvious financial benefits.
Their commitment to sustainability was formally established in 1986 with their ‘Vitra and the environment' workgroup, and the company puts a particular emphasis on long-term functionality in terms of both durability and aesthetics. "At Vitra, it goes without saying that furniture is valuable when its production, utilisation and recycling does not harm people or the environment."
Following on from WAN's recent critique of UK television series The Secret Life of Buildings with Tom Dyckhoff, which also highlighted the human, economic and efficiency benefits of a well-designed, less prescriptive office, Vitra's venture is a timely one, reflecting the current mood of architectural discourse. This is a prime example of the way that architecture is heading towards creating not just buildings, but environments that have a tangible, long-term value for the client.