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Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, Head of OMA, was in charge of developing the collection for Knoll.
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Questions for Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli (OMA)

5/19/2013

DANIEL VON BERNSTORFF: MR. PESTELLINI LAPARELLI, HOW DID THE COOPERATION WITH KNOLL FIRST START?

Pestellini Laparelli: Well, Knoll approached Rem Koolhaas already in 2001, but at the time we were not ready for this kind of commission. Of course we had done objects inside our architectural projects, but never as an autonomous collection. At the end of 2011, Knoll proposed that we create a collection to celebrate their 75th anniversary, and we decided to form a proper product design team at OMA.

DID KNOLL PROVIDE CERTAIN REQUIREMENTS?

Pestellini Laparelli: The briefing was very open. One of the major requirements was that it should somehow abolish the boundaries between office and living environment. A collection for “young” companies where living and working come together in a new way. People there work more and more on a height of 1.20m, standing up, bringing their laptops and having informal meetings at different places. The idea was to create a collection for working in fluid conditions. We approached this multiple level question through kinetics. As opposed to objects of different heights we made one object at different heights. So every object has multiple identities. So there are objects that not only work on different heights but also redefine there boundaries. Like the counter which is meant to divide and also to connect. It really is an investigation of a perimeter.

IS THE COUNTER THE CENTRAL PART OF THE COLLECTION?

Pestellini Laparelli: For me that is definitely the most powerful object. Not only for the scale but also for what it does. Eventually there are pieces that are less impactful like the table but they do really a lot. There is no glass-table in the market that can move from 50 cm height to 1.20 m. At the end of the day it is of course just a table, while the counter is unfamiliar.

WHAT'S ABOUT THE SPECIFIC DESIGN LANGUAGE? MANY PEOPLE SPOKE OF A SOMEHOW MODERNISTIC APPROACH AS IF THE PRODCUTS CAME FROM THE 80's.

Pestellini Laparelli: It was really a result of the process. There was not really any kind of research of form, but that was secondary to the research on performance. There is no specific time reference. For me the objects are out of time, even so they are timeless, being so essential and mechanic, they do not belong to any fashion or style. For me they stand in their very own and ambiguous condition. It seemed more like industrial prototypes, to a certain extend for something else. Personally I also find them very poetic because normally you would not see marble moving. To see this super traditional material which suddenly becomes kinetic and elegant, that was fascinating.

BUT THE MAIN ISSUE WAS OF COURSE THE PERFORMANCE…

Pestellini Laparelli: Absolutely. The products have sculptural qualities but are designed predominantly to be high performance tools. The second day of the exhibition in Milan I invited students of the Politecnico University. Literally after one hour the students were just using the pieces, sitting on them, placing the laptops on the objects. This is what we made them for. Personally I’ve never thought of them as being sculptural pieces. I’ve always imagined what would happen if you give them to somebody as tools.

HOW WAS THE COOPERATION WITH KNOLL?

Pestellini Laparelli: Very intense and strong. A bit like a permanent „ping pong”. Benjamin Pardo, design director at Knoll, was following the process very closely and was extremely interested in the way we approached the project. Creatively we were left very free, but when it came to the technical parts and the engineering, the experts from Knoll came in to support and of course they still do as we have another seven pieces to come. The pieces we have shown in Milan have been developed also in collaboration with Goppion, a local company from Milan specialized in the design of museum displays. Goppion has extremely sophisticated engineering knowledge and ability to design complicated systems. The perfect partners for our research.

WHAT WE SAW IN MILAN WAS ONLY THE FIRST PART OF THE COLLECTION?

Pestellini Laparelli: Yes. Seven other pieces will be developed and unveiled in the near future.

HOW WERE THE FIRST REACTIONS?

Pestellini Laparelli: Even though Milan is a difficult place as there are so many things happening at the same time. The comments I received were very positive, especially on the Counter. From September, when the collection will be officially on the market we will really see how it works. We actually had very positive reactions also on the Knoll pavilion at the fair itself which we also designed.

YOU STEPPED OUT OF THE MERE ASSIGNMENT?

Pestellini Laparelli: Indeed. Knoll is a very interesting case. They realized that in the recent years the company had somehow been swallowed by its products. Everybody knows what a „Barcelona" or „Wassily chair" is but only very few connect it to Knoll. So the aim was also to also reestablish the company awareness. That is why we called the pavilion „This is Knoll” in order to deliver a strong message and reinvigorate the identity of the company. Both the pavilion and the furniture should express and maximize the values of the company.

DOES THIS ALSO MEAN THAT YOU AS A DESIGNER STEP BACK BEHIND YOUR CLIENT?

Pestellini Laparelli: Absolutely. I think this is a very nice thing to do. In my eyes signature architecture and signature design are doomed to end. OMA is a lucky case because we are a collective, so the strength comes from the group and not from the individual. So there is no problem in saying, we do this for Knoll because we exchange with them some intelligent ideas about how to relaunch their company. That is why we also designed the fair pavilion, the invitation to the events and the Interni Magazine cover. With Knoll being the sender, not OMA. It is interesting as an architectural office to develop this kind of thinking and deliver alternative services. We have basically worked as identity makers for Knoll as well as designer of their new collection.

www.oma.eu
www.knoll-int.com

“Tools” for Life range is based on the idea that furniture should be understood as a high-performance instrument. Photo © Agostino Osio
Tables that can be adjusted by electric motor from coffee table to desk height. Photo © Agostino Osio
It is the first furniture collection by OMA. Rem Kohlhaas formed a proper team for the collection. Photo © OMA
Starting as a stack of three horizontal bars, the user can rotate the top two bars, into a series of shelves, desks, benches at different heights. Photo © Agostino Osio
The technique belongs to Goppion, Italy. Photo © Agostino Osio
The counter is the centerpiece of the collection. Photo © Agostino Osio
Each piece is made from a simple material palette making the furniture compatible with a range of residential and workplace interiors. Photo © Agostino Osio
Tools for Life were presented for the first time to the public at the Fondazione Prada in Milan during the Salone. Photo © Agostino Osio
One of the seven “Tools for Life”. Photo © Agostino Osio