Designing for democracy and diversity in the workplace

OBJECTS – ‘This is a working posture,’ says Koray Malhan, drawing up his knees and folding his body into the mouth of a periscope-shaped sofa. He leans back into Boccaporto’s sheltering interior – its upholstery clad in a fabric from Kvadrat – and, with a brush of his fingers, switches on a half-hidden strip of LED lights. Malhan is the brand and design director of Koleksiyon, a Turkish furniture label whose modern green campus accommodates the company’s Istanbul headquarters, its laboratory of ideas and its showroom.

Malhan is championing the idea of a workplace in which employees have choice and agency in personalizing their workspaces

The most recent Koleksiyon introduction is the aptly named Self-Organised Workplace, a collection built on principles that have emerged in Koleksiyon’s products and evolved over the past decade. Malhan is championing the idea of a workplace in which employees have choice and agency in personalizing their workspaces; the right to work in an environment that is organic, nontoxic and sustainable; and the freedom to unshackle themselves and their imaginations from assigned stations. To an increasing degree, the office is a culture, not a place. The office environment is as diverse as the people who use it.

Many of Koleksiyon’s systems are made up of pieces that ‘speak to each other’ while serving multiple functions: not a table and not a cabinet, but both in tandem. Malhan compares them to ‘topographies’ or elements of grammar.

Calder, a set of three different pouf units and an aluminium tray designed by Studio Kairos for Koleksiyon, can be pushed into no fewer than 40 compositions – no tools or interior designers required.

Another product by Venice-based Studio Kairos is Poema, a modular solution comprising seating, a plant box, a desk and storage enabling the staff to work and relax.

‘Humans spend most of each day in the workplace, so for us it is a moral duty to design products in line with a dynamic modern way of living, which now includes a domestic, welcoming atmosphere,’ says Abramo Mion of Studio Kairos, which has worked with Koleksiyon for years and designed a number of pieces belonging to the company’s latest collection, including Manta, a one-person, textile-wrapped workstation that resembles a painter’s easel. ‘We want to simplify the concept of each product, avoiding every unnecessary superstructure and giving each end user complete freedom to configure its final composition.’

Uniformity in office design fails to recognize the personal diversity of the workplace

The one-person workstation Manta can be folded for easy transport, empowering employees to station themselves anywhere from a garden to a client’s office.

Designed by Studio Kairos, Manta is enveloped in a textile ‘wrapping’ with internal pockets for storage.

Curled up inside Boccaporto, Malhan says, ‘It’s not mine, and I like that it’s not mine.’ He means that the womblike sofa supports concentrated work but only for a limited time, thus lending itself to being shared. Typically, everyone in an office ‘belongs’ in a certain workspace, and many office attributes ‘belong’ to someone. ‘But all these products are nobody’s,’ he says. ‘That makes them interesting to me.’ Designed by Italian studio Metrica, Boccaporto addresses the third-place concept of workspace – not home, not office – and a notion of community-building that Malhan compares to urban planning, referring to Heidegger’s meditation on ich bin (‘I am’) and ich bau (‘I build’). He notes that these verbs have the same roots in German. ‘To build is an existential thing,’ he says. ‘When you build, you create neighbourhoods, and neighbourhoods build relationships, which suggests that the way you build cities relates to how inhabitants relate to each other.’ Although he recognizes that workers are still generally anxious about losing ownership and the system of hierarchy long associated with it, he is doing his best to bring shared breathing space into the workplace.

The Boccaporto sofa addresses the third-place concept of work as neither home nor office, and a notion of democracy through shared communality.

Malhan says that many of today’s offices are designed to make staff feel as if they’re working in a democracy rather than a hierarchy. Seen from this perspective, each person has the same value as everyone else in the workplace. At the same time, the sense of equality that such offices are trying to achieve often finds its expression in a visual (and actual) uniformity; the implication is that each worker is not just equal to, but the same as, all the rest. It’s an approach to office design that fails to recognize the personal diversity of the workplace. ‘Rather than assigning people to furniture and saying that each worker should do certain things at certain times,’ he says, ‘the workplace could offer a topography of ways to work and let the employees decide how to use the tools at their disposal.’ He’s also convinced that ‘we can make behavioural changes through furniture’.

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