Within a dedicated 1,200 m2 area inside Salone Ufficio’s pavilion 24, Jean Nouvel explored contemporary building concepts informed by a rejection of cloned, alienating, standardised and serially repetitive spaces, inspiring exhibitors and visitors with different ways of achieving alternative aggregation formulas.
Nouvel’s point — the themes, the arrangements, and the voices — was to point us in the direction of a potential future where actually enjoy where we work.
“We can work, and will increasingly work, in apartments, in our own apartments, in converted warehouses” says Nouvel. “If we were to work in office skyscrapers, we would have to invent spaces impregnated with generosity, receptive to each and everybody’s universes and personalisations.”
“Once we reject cloned and alienating spaces, it becomes clear that there are many possible solutions,” says Jean Nouvel.
“We have to change our behaviours, plan and think of work with a different mindset: no matter where an office is situated, it has to have a space it can call its own, identifiable, alterable, on a human scale, with its own history and objects, an enjoyable environment, basically.”
Jean Nouvel brought together a series of rooms that explored a looser, more human attitude to designing workspaces.
Project “Office for Living” is intended to illustrate the concept of taking pleasure in life’: working is an integral part of living and we often spend more time in our offices than we do at home,” says Nouvel.
The “Office for Living” exhibit took the form of a small district, a small city – showcasing unique and unusual work scenarios that endeavour to demonstrate, that because of their individuality, work spaces need to be able to make for happy living as well as to provide inspiration.
These are not utopias, or showrooms, or collections of a few exceptional pieces: these offices are representative of ordinary situations, often existing ones, and feature office furniture produced in the main by Salone Office exhibitors.
Jean Nouvel built his first office building, the CLMBBDO advertising agency on the outskirts of Paris, in the late Eighties, giving full rein to the key strands of his vision of the workspace : mobility, conviviality, pleasure, fun, with offices opening onto both the inside and the outside of the building.
“In 30 or 40 years time we will be stunned to see just how unliveable most of today’s offices really were,” says Jean Nouvel. “Grotesque clones, standardisation, totalitarianism, never the merest hint of being pleasurable to inhabit.” This concept of pleasure in office living is precisely what is driving “Project: office for living.”
It is a quest for new materials and new technologies for creating comfortable, effective, user-friendly and ecologically-aware environments.
We need to inhabit our offices the way we inhabit our homes and our cities, because we spend just as much time in the workplace as we do in our own homes, and everyone has a right to small pleasures – light regulation, emplacements, views, the right of expression through furniture and objects.
A monolith rises in the middle of Salone Ufficio presentation, as intriguing as it is inviting, it shows four video-portraits – of the stylist Agnès B, the photographer Elliot Erwitt, the artist Michelangelo Pistoletto and the writer and film director Alain Fleischer – each raising their concerns and expressing their points of view on the office space.
“We’re not all little chickens at a chicken farm. The issue is how to lighten up, how to consider the time we spend at work a pleasure too,” Nouvel said.
“We can work anywhere today and we have to work anywhere. And we can live everywhere…. “We spend a lot longer at work than at home,” he said.
Six groundbreaking work situations are freely grouped around the monolith, serving to accentuate just how outdated today’s attitudes to the workplace really are –
“Work In an Ancient Apartment” (its’ floor plan follows that of an old European apartment, which is so much more inviting than the typical office);
“Working From Home” (arranged in a seemingly domestic space in which the utilitarian furniture seems right at home);
“Warehouses, The New Loft Workspaces” (because the adaptive reuse of ancient urban spaces as hip clubs and artists’ spaces is so last decade, they should become hip offices instead);
and “4 Designers in the Office” (where designs by Ron Arad, Marc Newson, Michele de Lucchi, and Philippe Starck were on display).
1) The first of these is a classic city-centre apartment : the reception rooms, bedroom, kitchen, fireplaces, floors and mouldings have been left untouched.
The space, used for both work and entertaining, is furnished to chime with the original architecture and the echoes of the past, with several different activities taking place in a warm, intimate atmosphere. The spaces are comfortable, individual and original.
The apartment serves as a pleasing backdrop for living, enabling self-expression through objects and work, conserving the functional ethos of the office yet without prompting the same resonance.
2) Rationalism provides the theme for this space: a high-tech, open-plan office system which, while conforming to normality and to rational standardisation, is geared to transformation.
The footprint, which may seem static and repetitive, is in fact free-form: sliding, collapsible walls enable individual offices to be built, either opening out into the adjacent space or the corridor or providing isolation.
The doors are sliding or folding, there are blinds for light regulation, with frosted glass for intimacy. Sophisticated wood and chrome finishings and high-tech components impart a luxurious feel.
An overall yet generous layout, geared to enjoyment in life.
3). Then there is an open space, containing pieces of industrial furniture that can be put together, stacked, taken apart and reassembled, breaking with the totalitarian, repetitious character of today’s offices.
Furniture from several different eras is combined, incorporating objects from different spheres.
The openness of the space enables everyone to express themselves freely, building their own working environments: cut off from their neighbours or in close contact; sitting on their desks or hunkering down on them.
Different varieties of wood, cardboard, leather and coloured plastic rub shoulders, crowned with atypical and unexpected objects, marking out an irregular and astonishing cityscape.
4). The fourth is informed by the increasing vogue for working from home.
During the day the house serves as an office, reprising its domestic function in the evenings, at weekends and on days off.
“Habitation” and “office” become interwoven: the lines between office and home furniture become blurred, in a space in which even the objects have a dual existence.
5). The fifth space consists of a warehouse, a basic steel container of the kind found in city suburbs the world over.
These often-empty cubes make for free-range furnishing.
Their particular spatial quality affords each and every form of appropriation and differentiation. They make for and absorb specific non-systematic, totally flexible furnishing, lighting and decorating solutions.
The scope for unfettered conversion is what sets this free space apart.
6). A light laboratory promoting artistic and pictorial lighting for working environments, breaking with the monotony of traditional, homogeneous office lighting, is another feature.
Prototype lamps, providing hitherto undreamt-of lighting solutions enabling each person to create their own lighting system, are on exhibit.
Spaces unfettered by traditional rules, therefore, with the concept of enjoyment in work firmly first and foremost, allowing people to put their own spaces together as best suits them, with plays of light and reflections.
Jean Nouvel has also put together a small compendium of furnishings by his great heroes, a homage to extraordinary designs of the past that are still tremendously contemporary.
The pieces are displayed in front of the photographs of the places for which they were conceived by their “creators,” the masters who make up the imaginary museum that fires his inspiration.
Four other designers — Ron Arad, Michele de Lucchi, Marc Newson and Philippe Starck — have also contributed to Jean Nouvel’s project, showing their studios via video link and outlining their ideas in the VIP Lounge area.
About Jean Nouvel
Jean Nouvel, (born August 12, 1945) is a French architect.
Nouvel studied at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was a founding member of Mars 1976 and Syndicat de l’Architecture.
He has obtained a number of prestigious distinctions over the course of his career, including the Aga Khan Award for Architecture, the Wolf Prize in Arts in 2005 and the Pritzker Prize in 2008.
Jean Nouvel was awarded the Pritzker Prize, architecture’s highest honour, in 2008, for his work on more than 200 projects, among them, in the words of The New York Times, the “exotically louvered” Arab World Institute, the bullet-shaped and “candy-colored” Torre Agbar in Barcelona, the “muscular” Guthrie Theater with its cantilevered bridge in Minneapolis, and in Paris, the “defiant, mysterious and wildly eccentric” Musée du quai Branly (2006) and the Philharmonie de Paris (a “trip into the unknown” c. 2012).