Konstantin Grcic

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It was incredibly interesting to hear the Brit reaction to Orgatec’s recent product launch offerings.

‘Haven’t seen anything earth-shattering’ and ‘There isn’t a great deal to see’ were just two of the comments thrown at us. In both cases, our answer was ‘Have you seen Hack on the Vitra stand?’

Designed by renowned German designer Konstantin Grcic, Hack is a table system that counters traditional desking with its innovative functional and aesthetic approach that has been designed to satisfy the demands of today’s hi-tech companies. In short, Hack is foldable, flexible private workstation unlike anything we’ve seen.

We’re fortunate enough to be able to chat with Konstantin on the Vitra stand at Orgatec, where both Hack and new seating collection Allstar are gathering plenty of interest. And we say plenty, we mean Vitra plenty – the space is rammed!

We begin by asking Konstantin about the origins of his collaboration with Vitra. ‘I’ve worked with Vitra before,’ he explains, ‘but not on this scale and I’ve not designed office systems for them before. Previously I worked on Waver – which was an outdoor chair.

‘I first met with Vitra through Marianne (Goebl, now CEO of Vitra brand Artek – but you’ll know that if you read October’s Mix!) probably seven years ago – she was still with Vitra then. She was in charge of a project called the Vitra Edition, which was the reviving of a project that started in the 1980s, and involved interesting and experimental concept pieces. We did a project together – mine was a big metal structure called ‘Landen’ – the German verb ‘to land’. In a way it was quite a ridiculous project really – it was a big, metal, urban piece of furniture, public space, vandal-proof thing. I suppose I wanted to do something that I knew Vitra would never do. I really enjoyed it! From that came a real relationship – which was really nice.’

Orgatec-2014_768289_masterWe move on to talk about the two eye-catching new collections. ‘They don’t really belong together,’ Konstantin concedes. ‘They are being launched together here, of course, and you can put the two together if you wish, but they were two totally different projects. Allstar, the new chair, I guess is much more classical in terms of the format of the project. This is what Vitra does – they commission office chairs. They have done this so many times, it is something they know a lot about, they know what an office chair is and they know all about the process – and, as designers, we know how to design an office chair. It was really interesting and challenging for me. I have never designed a chair with this kind of complexity before. From the first meeting and discussions through until today has been approximately four years. For the past two years we’ve focused on this concept and making it work.

‘The other project is completely different. It started with travelling to the Silicon Valley, visiting those big tech companies and trying to get a first-hand impression of who they are, where they are, how they work, who works there, what they do – you hear so much about all this but you really have to go and see for yourself in order to understand – to believe what is hype and what is reality.

‘It is amazing. There’s a real energy there. Something seems to work – it’s a beautiful part of the world with a nice climate and then you have offices that offer a lot of things around that. I think there is a lot of freedom in the way you can work. There is clearly a lot of cleverness there – in all kinds of aspects. It’s incredibly interesting. Maybe we think this is not possible, but they are proving that it is. These are the best working environments – and lifestyle packages – and they get the best of you because of this.

‘Interestingly, the majority of these companies have very serious workspaces – big open plan offices that are not non-territorial. They have their own space with their own computers – but that’s only one side of the office. These are the parts of the offices that I think these companies pay the least attention and money to. A desk is good enough and then there’s an Aeron chair – and money is spent on the canteen, the lounge, the Ping Pong tables…

‘It can create an awful mess – with desks and tabletops being at all sorts of different heights.’

‘So what we are doing here is trying to break into this frustrating world of commodities – where the desk has become a commodity. There are certain interesting requirements – many of which are relatively new – which are significant. Sit/Stand requirements, for example, can’t easily be achieved with a simple, cheap desk, but if you do find the right solution then it can change the office landscape.

‘It can create an awful mess – with desks and tabletops being at all sorts of different heights.’

At this point in the conversation we are suddenly (albeit momentarily and with sincere apologies) interrupted – by another of the current product design greats, Patricia Urquiola. We’ve never been so pleased to be interrupted!

With Konstantin and Patricia agreeing to meet up a little later, we move back to the subject of the former’s brilliant new Hack system. ‘We didn’t want to accept that there is just this commodity market for desks and we certainly didn’t want to simply resign from it,’ Konstantin continues. ‘There’s still something so elementary and necessary for Vitra as a company to deal with here – so can we find a new form that answers these questions and provides a real solution for the issues of expansion, shrinking, teams splitting up etc?

‘These people don’t want anything corporate – they want something that they feel is theirs. Essentially we’re offering them a wooden box with a bit of engineering that creates a basic workspace – and then they can ‘hack it’. They can make it whatever they need it to be – because it is made of wood it is far easier to do this.’

Konstantin is being extremely modest when he says ‘a bit of engineering’. This is not a simple system – it is clear to us that a great deal of intelligent design, creativity and ingenuity has been built into a product that appears intuitive, flexible and incredibly user-friendly. ‘Of course, this is a Vitra product and it has to have a level of sophistication – a Vitra has the power of engineering to do that,’ Konstantin concedes. ‘As simple as it is, it is not something that can be easily copied or reproduced by just anyone. We have built real Vitra competence into it.

Allstar_715316_master‘I don’t think it necessarily looks like a Vitra product at first look – maybe this is the new Vitra! It’s something to try out and I think it shows Vitra’s understanding that things are changing and their serious commitment and willingness to be a part of that change – to lead that change. It’s going to be really exciting to get the feedback and to see the reaction to it.’

Going back to the start of his formidable career, Konstantin, who is originally from Munich, tells us he trained as a cabinet maker at The John Makepeace School in our very own Dorset before studying Design at London’s Royal College of Art. ‘John is a legend – a master craftsman,’ Konstantin smiles. ‘I was doing an apprenticeship in Germany as a cabinet maker but the German system is very different – it’s very regulated by the Guild. In England it is far more free. I heard about the school through a friend and I bought a train ticket and went there. I decided to live in Dorset for two years – I was 21. Maybe most people would rather spend ‘the best years of their lives’ in a big city, but it was worth it – it was a fantastic experience.

‘After my time in London I knew I wanted to go into the industrial side of design. I still love to be a maker – I think a big part of designing is making. I like being hands-on – I find it very satisfactory.

‘I think my training in Dorset is still the basis of everything I do – even though it was only woodworking – it is more about an attitude of mind, how you approach work.’

In 1991 Konstantin set up his own practice, Konstantin Grcic Industrial Design (KGID), in Munich. He has since developed furniture, products and lighting for some of the leading design companies in the world, including Authentics, BD Ediciones, ClassiCon, Flos, Magis, Mattiazzi, Muji, Nespresso, Plank, Serafino Zani, Thomas Rosenthal and, of course, Vitra.

‘After my time in London I knew I wanted to go into the industrial side of design. I still love to be a maker…’

Many of his products have received international design awards such as the prestigious Compasso d`Oro for his MAYDAY lamp (Flos) in 2001 and the MYTO chair (Plank) in 2011. Furthermore, his work forms part of the permanent collections of the world´s most important design museums, including MoMA in New York and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris.

Today, Konstantin (as we have seen here on the Vitra stand) continues to push the boundaries in terms of his use of materials and processes, while reinforcing his reputation as a designer who brings humour, sensitivity and a genuine human touch to his collections. ‘I always like to challenge the norm,’ he grins. ‘Design is an evolution, therefore you have to keep taking the next step.’