Rem Koolhaas sits on 04 Counter, a piece from OMA’s new Knoll collection.

Three laminated plywood “beams,” which are stacked to rotate from a center axis, create a series of stools and perches.

The unfolded piece.

Tools for Life, OMA’s furniture line, debuted at Salone del Mobile in Milan this week.

Many of the pieces are kinetic, like this chair.

A low table and two chairs, all raisable with a big red button.

The button, seen here.

The concrete base of the chair.

This executive desk is supported by a single column.

A low acrylic table functions on the same premise as 04 Counter.

A view of the table in movement.

A view of the table at the exhibition space.

A detail.

The pieces are designed to feel authentically architectural--recalling the Bauhaus as well as Gordon Gekko’s postmodern parroting of it.

“The furniture is, in a way, mutable and changeable, and so for that reason it corresponds very closely to my interest in things that perform rather than things that have particular shapes,” Koolhaas commented.

A shot of 04 Counter, from above.

And partially unfolded.

The table raised full height.

A circular envelope hides charging devices.

The exhibition hall in Milan.

Co.Design

OMA And Knoll Unveil Furniture Worthy Of Dr. No

They’ve built some of the most complex buildings in the world. Will great furniture follow?

Over the past couple of years, work has metastasized from an eight-hour-a-day gig to a 24-hour-a-day lifestyle. The idea has even weaseled its way into Salone del Mobile in Milan this week, where designers are presenting dozens of concepts for the mobile employee. Among them is OMA, its collaboration with Knoll, Tools for Life, it describes as “furniture for something that is in between an office and a domestic environment.”

Rem Koolhaas--or more specifically, his think tank, AMO--was one of the first to suggest the merging of work and home. In the early 2000s, AMO described “the kinetic elite,” a group of professionals for whom constant travel and change was more normal than life at home. So AMO and its architectural practice counterpart, OMA, are well suited, conceptually, to take on the typology.

Does Tools for Life live up to the challenge? The anchor of the collection is a contraption called 04 Counter, three laminated plywood “beams,” which are stacked to rotate from a center axis, creating a series of stools and perches. Then there are two tables, done in marble, steel, and concrete, that move up and down at the push of a big red button. The same goes for a series of low armchairs. A clear acrylic coffee table builds on the structural premise of 04 Counter.

It’s unclear how the idea of kinetics relates to the home office, beyond being able to raise or lower tables and chairs--nor how a large piece like 04 Counter works in either a home or an office. The pieces are designed to feel authentically architectural--recalling the Bauhaus as well as Gordon Gekko’s postmodern parroting of it. “The furniture is, in a way, mutable and changeable, and so for that reason it corresponds very closely to my interest in things that perform rather than things that have particular shapes,” Koolhaas commented in a statement (PDF here). “So in that sense, there is a kind of seamless incorporation of the same logic, but at a totally different scale.”

Koolhaas is referring to the OMA-bred notion of “cake pan architecture,” where you throw a bunch of different programs and functions into a pan and see what shape they form. This is where OMA really shines: in taking incredibly complex systems and engineering them into big, powerful forms, as they did with CCTV in Beijing and the Seattle Public Library.

The problem with applying that ethos to furniture is simple: The body isn’t as spatially complex as the modern superstructure (or at least it isn’t in OMA’s conception of it). So instead of a marvel of engineering, we get interesting but simplistic ideas about kinesthesia--perhaps because there isn’t much complexity to dig into here. There are some interesting structural moves in Tools for Life--for example, an executive desk supported by a single column--and it’s not that the collection isn’t interesting. It’s simply that, for a firm behind some of the most structurally advanced architecture of the past decade, furniture might not be enough of a challenge.

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3 Comments

  • Andrea

    There already is a Dr. No desk.  It was designed by Gunni Omann and produced by Omann Jun Møbelfabrik and can be seen in the first James Bond movie.

  • Simone Oltolina

    I love the concept but the execution (i.e. the actual furniture) has no link with it.

  • rktrixy

    Um.  No.  Really, no.  Looking at that furniture gives me a backache.  And a headache. 

    Mobility doesn't really require a furnished response, does it?  It's more about loosening up boundaries of private/public spaces into shared/collaborative spaces.  And really, if I could be working on my laptop anywhere, why not be at the beach or in a beautiful public library or...  fill in the blank.  Just not at that piece of furniture - please! 

    Having mobility makes us ask "why do we meet?"  If what you produce can be produced anywhere, then the question becomes "what do we want from being together?"