The survival of the office
Oct 27, 2014

Claesson Koivisto Rune – it takes a while until you can pronounce the name correctly. But it’s worth your while trying. As the three architects Mårten Claesson, Eero Koivisto and Ola Rune are among the best in the Swedish design and architecture community today. You only need consider the list of the companies with whom they have worked since founding their studio back in 1995; it includes Arflex, Boffi, Casamania, Kasthall, Offecct, Paola Lenti, Svedese, and Wästberg, to name but a few. In Sweden, Claesson Koivisto Rune tend to be booked as architects, and among others the results have included the Sony Music Headquarter in Stockholm, the “Tind” prefabricated house, and a series of private residences. Martina Metzner met Mårten Claesson in Claesson Koivisto Rune’s studio in Stockholm to poll his views on office design, the Swedish take on it, and Claesson Koivisto Rune’s specific approach. And found herself sitting in what Claesson called the psychological “pole position”, with her back to the window, meaning our Stylepark editor was able to see him perfectly, while he had to screw up his eyes to see her given the strong incoming light.

Martina Metzner: Over the last few decades the spaces in which we work have fundamentally changed. From the boss’s office to the cellular office to the open-plan office right through to functional landscapes. How do Claesson Koivisto Rune handle this issue?

Mårten Claesson: We have been working for 20 years, all the while converting offices into open spaces. From my perspective we tend to create offices that don’t look like offices. They look more like someone’s home. I think the playfulness we see at big IT companies, for example, is more or less because they want to make something like a big kindergarten for adults, for people no more than 30 years old. But if you work with people in other sectors, like lawyers, who need more a serious atmosphere, you can’t really do a playground. You don’t have to create a neoclassical environment either. But what could be the equivalent in contemporary society? And then you can start to think about opening up this message.

On one hand we have the serious atmosphere in offices and on the other you want to create a private home feeling. How do you solve this problem?

Mårten Claesson: Let’s be clear: No one is such a fool that he thinks he is entering a home in this particular place. There is a reception, there is a waiting area. But the sofa and the carpet in the waiting area are perhaps not in the style of normal office furniture; more like quality home style. That is a very simple way to change the ambiance. All the functions are still there. If you look at the office furniture industries, that is what they are doing. They present themselves as makers of furniture for all purposes. Even if their core business is office furniture.

You work internationally as architects and also furniture designers. Is there a Swedish perspective on designing an office?

Mårten Claesson: There is a slight difference; you can see it comparing Sweden and the rest of Europe. We have less of a hierarchy in the office. For example, there is rarely a dress code and you don’t call people by their last name, even if it is your boss. If you want to establish an open office, at least from a Swedish perspective, it is important that the management is included. That is not just for the people below the management, with the management still having its separate rooms; then it doesn’t work. I think Swedish companies have understood this; the boss sits with all the others. Which I think is not the case in all countries. So if you ask me with our culture the transformation into the open-plan office was fairly smooth, because we already had this non-hierarchical idea of society.

You do a lot for Offecct, which is strong in the office business. When you speak about a private room feel and when I look at the objects that you made for Offecct, which are very playful and colorful, is this the “private” approach you mean?

Mårten Claesson: Offecct has always been and always is colorful, graphic in a way, and that suits us well. We have always worked with strong colors. This is another difference between Sweden and other close neighbors. Our version of modern design always has a colorful or joyful twist. It can be strict, it can be reduced, but there is always a little twist, even a little bit of humor.

You did in fact design the Offecct headquarters itself.

Mårten Claesson: We designed an addition to the existing showroom and the main office factory, a few years ago. It is interesting in a couple of ways. First of all it is a typical factory in a rural setting, with the typical boxes, located on main transportation roads. And Offecct said they needed a sign, so that people could find them, but also for advertising. Instead of doing the sign we did the whole building as a sign. We put up a whole mesh of steel with holes and we combined it with the little plastic from the end of chair legs, which is part of their production, to form their logo. To tell a story about what they make. And inside we organized the office in a meeting area and the showroom in-between the factory and the main office. Normally the doors are open so that you can see the whole showroom with the factory behind. The showroom is not only for visitors, but also for the production team to use as a reference: “Go and have a look, it is over there”. Typically a lot of furniture companies have expansive showrooms in bigger cities. The showroom in the factory is more for the agents, once a year. And then it is unused space. In this case they make internal use of it.

You’ve mentioned already what could be the next thing after open-plan offices. What do you think about the idea that the fixed office will be eliminated in favor of a mobile office or home office?

Mårten Claesson: I think we will see all of these models in the future: the home office, the plug-in office and the traditional office. Side by side, it depends on what you do. I strongly believe that we will not see the end of the office. Because it is now becoming really apparent to people that although video and skype meetings are starting to work, they are inferior to real, personal meetings. The whole idea of sitting on your little island with an Internet connection, not meeting anyone except through the screen – this works to a certain extent. But to have efficient meetings you still need to meet person to person. That speaks in favor of the survival of the office.