Nestled in the foothills of north Istanbul is the Koleksiyon headquarters where designer and brand manager Koray Malhan’s Rework – a vision for the contemporary office landscape – is laid out across three floors of an old crane factory. Malhan’s ideas about how the office archetype could be shaped to fit the needs of workers are rooted in his research in anthropology and sociology. The vast walls filled with philosophical texts on the headquarters’ ground floor and his references to diverse figures from philosopher Umberto Eco to film maker Jean Luc Godard suggest a thoroughly considered approach that investigates how best to serve the office worker of today.
You often refer to the book Open Work by Umberto Eco when speaking about ReWork. What about the publication struck you so much?
KORAY MALHAN: The most critical impression I got was the change of approach to the process of creation. Up until that time there was the idea that one master creates. Eco suggests that it is not just one person creating and another receiving the result, but that the others could participate in the process thus allowing the solution to grow in a different pattern. Eco offers a linguistic difference. These questions should be asked within design – especially in office furniture because it is used by professionals.
I have brought the principles from the book that interested me back to my profession and considered how we could apply them in design. How much can other parties add to creation? Do they just buy the products and place them in order? Or can they configure it and plan it themselves? These are my questions and that is the linguistic difference in approaching design. Mine is more of a historical approach – it is an invitation to join the creative process.
The open plan concept once heralded the future office. Why have we moved on from that?
I have been interested in the layout of offices for many years and I have read many reports on this subject. Every decade, there are trends. From the mid-60s until the 90s, there was the Dilbert Syndrome, when people felt so enclosed by the cubicle that cartoonists were making caricatures of it. After the cubicle concept, came the benches and then the open offices. In the end, it is clear that one is not better than the other – they are opposite but that doesn’t make them better or worse.
The open plan office wasn't any better. People sitting next to each other without any serious divisions; one talking on the phone while the other is trying to write a report. No one could have a private moment.
The big mistake was to try and find a solution for everyone. Therefore, it was the question that was wrong, not the answer. We don't have a solution for the office, we have different propositions that co-exist. Oblivion provides a possibility for seclusion in the office. When and how staff use it should be up to them. People should be active participants in how they want to choose the time and place to work. Oblivion offers more options for a flexible period of time, after which they can return to their base desk.
Do you then aim to provide whole environs rather than individual products?
I imagine so. At home, a person buys things in a different order: they move in, buy a sofa, maybe later a coffee table. Some people may buy everything in one go but generally they add up over time. An office is a setup. It is generally planned, programmed, purchased and planted, all at once. While it does give people the chance to see that the objects relate to each other, the design should also be rational. To bring a more coherent, calmer approach, they should speak to each other and share an invisible language. As in nature, nothing comes individually. There is an invisible system that unites elements and they feed from one another. More critically, these elements should not be decorated. I hate decorated offices – within two or three years, it is dated. It is very dangerous to create an office that won’t live that long.