Following in the footsteps of such visionaries as Mies van der Rohe, Eero Saarinen and Frank Gehry, Rem Koolhaas has been tapped by American furniture design powerhouse Knoll to create a collection of dynamic furniture to help ring in their 75th year. A collaboration for the ages, excitement over the project was only enhanced when Prada was thrown into the mix, offering their Milan exhibition space during Salone del Mobile as a formidable stage for the collection's first proper showing. Officially created by the Dutch architect's firm OMA, the "Tools for Life" collection consists of 11 kinetic pieces which are retro, contemporary and futuristic all at once.
As both Koolhaas' and OMA's first venture into product design, the collection forced the firm to adapt a fresh way of thinking, from "form to performance" as Koolhaas explained it. When asked about the catalyst for stepping out of the "puritanical confines" of an architecture-only practice, Koolhaas said he had simply outgrown the need for such oppression. Counter to his preconceived notions of product design, the collection even led Koolhaas to realize the "deeply satisfying quality in doing small things."
As for the collection itself, Knoll CEO Andrew Cogan said he approached Koolhaas "not to do a product, but to create an environment," which not only hints at the collection's purpose but it seems to explain the use of Prada's multi-leveled exhibition space as well—the execution of which can be seen best in the collection's signature piece, the 04 Counter, a monolithic stack of horizontal shelves. Arranged neatly, the piece is a single counter top, but when pushed or pulled in nearly any direction, the three tiers create a communal gathering space with cantilevered benches and shelving. An engineering feat, the piece utilizes a system of internal bearings and rails to facilitate full 360-degree movement in each layer.
Resembling a 1960s prediction of what the future may look like, the 05 Round Table and 06 Table feature an exposed mechanical base, which raises and lowers at the push of a red button encased in acrylic—a rather tempting button hinting at the power of doomsday, we might add. Like the complimentary acrylic 01 Arm Chair and 02 Arm Chair, the two tables can be adjusted between coffee table or lounge height, dining level and standing height. This gets at the collection's ultimate goal, to create "furniture that helps people live their lives," says Cogan. Put simply, the collection should accommodate an ever-changing life and suggests that furniture should change along with us.
Known primarily for office furniture in North America, and for home furnishings in Europe, Knoll hopes the collaboration will bring the two interconnected disciplines together even more. Recognizing the disintegration of work- and home-specific spaces in the 75 years since Knoll's founding, Cogan feels the "categories are becoming increasingly meaningless. To blur this line in the collection shows a bit of our intent in our direction over the next 75 years."
The "Tools for Life" collection rounds out with a three-leveled coffee table that, similar in mechanism to the 04 Counter, can be swiveled and extended in endless directions, a base-less floor seat, a modular bench, room partition and credenza. For more information on the collection keep an eye on OMA online.
Images by Graham Hiemstra and ©A.Osio. Courtesy of Knoll, Inc.