Orgatec preview: the next generation workplace is all about settings

There is a well travelled international circuit for those interested in what office design tells us about the way we work that has, for a number of years, taken in London, Milan, Chicago, Stockholm and Cologne as its main stopping off points. This week sees the launch of Orgatec, the longstanding biennial workplace festival in Cologne. One of the interesting features of Orgatec is that, because it takes place every two years, it offers snapshots of key developments in the market. It throws a spotlight on whatever workplace professionals are talking about and whatever product designers are doing in response to the changing world of work. And it does it on a big scale. This year over 600 companies from 40 countries will be presenting across an exhibition area of 105,000 sq. m. This seems big, and is, but is down markedly on the size of the show from 20 years ago when Orgatec was the launch pad for seminal products such as Herman Miller’s Aeron Chair and the Ad Hoc  furniture system from Vitra.

These are arguably the two products that defined the changing world of work we have seen over the past 20 years and their year zero came at Orgatec in 1994. The workplace is at another crossroads right now and this year’s Orgatec plans to signpost the ways ahead. To this end the organisers have introduced some strongly branded intellectual themes that embrace a workplace that is no longer defined by a main office building which is home to staff working regular hours, but also consists of the world at large and the technology they carry around with them.

As part of this approach, the organisers have created a number of features including the Orgatec Boulevard, a central space designed to allow visitors to network, relax and work in a way that reflects similar spaces that are now commonplace both within the walls of the traditional office and without. This is the office as a mixture of settings rather than a rigid place of work with the space broken up into four areas including the home.

Similar themes will be explored in a series of Competence Centres including “ORGATEC Space” and “ORGATEC Mobile” which look at issues relating to  lighting, flooring and acoustics and mobile technology respectively.

If the exhibitors need any nudges about what other themes to pursue, the organisers have laid these out too. Subjects that the show looks to explore include multi-generational working, productivity and design, sustainability, ergonomics and wellness, teamworking and the integration of the physical and technological workplace.

We can expect many exhibitors to be way ahead of the curve on these issues, not least Vitra, who invariably come across as perhaps the go-to stand at the show when it comes to understanding workplace trends and the response of designers to them. Among the products we expect to see developed or launched this year are: an extension to the Alcove and Workbays system designed by Erwin and Ronan Bouroullec to provide  acoustic privacy in break out, meeting and public spaces; a new storage system from longstanding collaborator Antonio Citterio and an update of a classic 1940s collection of furniture and lighting originally designed by Jean Prouvé.

But perhaps most intriguingly, Vitra will be focussing on the theme of work settings that will define the show this time around. “Contemporary office furnishings are expected to perform many different functions,” the company says “They must define work processes, facilitate teamwork, enable creativity and promote productivity. At the same time, the office is an essential expression of a company’s identity, both internally – towards its employees – and externally.”

To get this message across the firm will be conceptualising four specific workstyles based around different collections of products as well as offering visitors copies of a publication called ‘Workspirit 13’, which Vitra say explores the complex changes in today’s working world. The four workstyles are:

Industrial Workshop

Based on the updated Prouvé classic collection, this section draws on workplace classicism to harness what the firm describes as raw, productive energy. Modified to meet modern cabling requirements the message is that some forms of contemporary work are indistinguishable from those of the distant past.

Hacker Workshop

Aimed at younger companies working in the creative industries (and those who want to follow the same arc) who are seeking to attract young graduates by eschewing the traditional office in favour of something more akin to a campus setting. The central components of this installation are the new Hack table system and the Allstar office chair, both designed by Konstantin Grcic and aimed at startups and microbusinesses.

Innovation Atelier

Based around the products of the Bouroullec products, this workstyle focuses on creativity, teamwork and the flexibility for people and teams to reconfigure space to maximise their productivity and interaction.


The final workstyle is the café, seen here as in real life as the beating heart of the modern office, the place where things get done and people also go to socialise. As such the perfect way to frame contemporary thinking about the office in general and an event like Orgatec in particular.


03bdbc8Justin Miller is the sales director of office furniture and ergonomics specialist Wellworking