Vitra Citizen OfficeWeil am Rhein, Germany
Citizen Office 2011
The Citizen Office project began in 1991. Initiated by Vitra, Andrea Branzi, Michele de Lucchi and Ettore Sottsass sat down together and began contemplating "the office". They developed strategies of change that aimed to do away with the limitations set by one-dimensional office environments. They came up with an alternative, wh...read more
Citizen Office 2011
The Citizen Office project began in 1991. Initiated by Vitra, Andrea Branzi, Michele de Lucchi and Ettore Sottsass sat down together and began contemplating "the office". They developed strategies of change that aimed to do away with the limitations set by one-dimensional office environments. They came up with an alternative, which later became the subject of an exhibition at the VitraDesignMuseum, as well as a publication that presented "the office" from the viewpoint of office workers – who use the latest communication technologies, network and who move independently in many different types of office scenarios at different times. The aim was to create an office environment that was alive, that facilitated interaction and that did not draw any distinctions between working and living.
Today, ideas from this project can be found applied – to differing degrees based on the work culture – to offices around the world. Not because the exhibition or the book was so influential, but because we and the three designers anticipated something that would become a mega-trend and redefine the offices of the information society: the office worker as an independent and self-confident team player. We call these workers "office citizens", and they work in an environment where hierarchies are getting flatter and new technological advances play a central role in communication.
During the past two decades Vitra has continued to follow the developments that the "Citizen Office" project presented. New products and office concepts have been – and still are – the result of the changing needs of both companies and (especially) their employees.
Developing office work practices is a continual process, and this means that there will never be a final "Citizen Office". Instead, change is constantly taking place on many different levels: technically, organizationally and socially.
Citizen Office 2011 is a stocktaking of the current state of offices, and presents Vitra’s recommendations on how new concepts and products can be applied to today’s office environments to meet all kinds of office needs.
"During the course of our investigations […] we did not focus on desks and chairs, but rather on the social aspects involved in work. […] What we came up with was Citizen Office: an office that gains a ‘civil’ role within a public company. We believe that society should not be allowed to disappear from companies. Instead, companies must strive to become integrated into society. Our project does not aim to reconstruct a fabricated and superficial world. We want to create an office that is truly open to real life".
Andrea Branzi, Designer, in "Citizen Office – Ideas and Notes on a New Office Environment", 1994
"Work is always much more than just completing set processes. Not just because so-called individual needs need to be met, but also in order to simply ensure that things function the way they should. Communication and cooperation, controversy and criticism, and new ideas all need space, social and mental freedom and generosity to flourish".
Uta Brandes, Prof. for Gender and Design, in "Citizen Office – Ideas and Notes on a New Office Environment", 1994
"Having the freedom to work at home is the new status symbol. When I present young people with the freedom to choose from a selection of chairs, too, for example, they feel this freedom even more intensely, and this means that all of the hours that they spend at work are enjoyable. This is in our interest: it ensures relaxed thinking instead of inhibited thinking.“
Thomas Rempen, Prof. for Integrated Communication Design, in an interview included in "Citizen Office – Ideas and Notes on a New Office Environment", 1994
Citizen Office 2011 – The Office of Options
In a "Citizen Office" employees do their part in a work culture of mutual trust. They also decide what work pace, work form and workplace is right for the task at hand: concentrated work or communicating; standing or sitting; office chair or sofa. The employees have many options to choose from, and when everything is within easy reach, it is not a problem to quickly switch between these options either.
Activity, dynamism and motion characterize the ergonomic work environment that can be found in a Citizen Office. The employees’ subjective feeling of wellbeing is recognized as a factor of productivity. A "Citizen Office" takes the various needs of different cultures, demographic and social groups into consideration. Room concepts, furnishings and information technologies change after an office has already been set up, and this means that an office is a place that must be flexible and also able to change.
The work environment of a "Citizen Office" has two basic features: a central "Office Forum" – which is comparable to that of a main square in a town or city – and surrounding "Workstation Areas" – which are comparable to that of different districts. Both of these features are functional, flexible systems, which facilitate networking and interaction when needed, but also provide places to retreat to for both concentrated work and relaxation.
The Workstation Areas are where both daily life and work take place. This is the place at the office where employees are at home, and also where they are a part of a team, integrated into a functional organization. Tasks and projects are carried out alone or in a group here; information is also exchanged directly and on a continual basis. The "Workstation Areas" are very similar to so-called "traditional offices" – and yet they are anything but monotone open space offices.
Different kinds of work areas and chairs serve to create work environments that meet various needs: the large work bench is ideal for working in groups; clusters of tables can be created where employees can stand and sit, and dual and single workstations are available as well. All components are available for creating either immobile or non-territorial work areas for temporary use. And since the technical installations can be reduced to a minimum, these workstations are both more compact and better equipped. Height-adjustable tables with several flat screens, energy-efficient desk lamps and personally selected office swivel chairs set new standards for excellent work areas that are ergonomic and ecological.
Additional components are high-back sofas featuring writing shelves and work booths with privacy screens, which offer nesting options that are in close proximity to each other. Traditional individual offices are also a part of "Citizen Office" – but not in the form of management offices, but rather as "silence rooms", "debate rooms" and "media rooms".
Knowledge is also shared to the greatest extent possible in a "Citizen Office". This means that business in the office is conducted more or less paperless. Everything that cannot be digitalized – samples, prototypes, documentation – is not kept at individual workstations, but rather in one main archive that can be accessed by everyone from all of the "neighborhoods". Personal documents, books or private belongings can be stored safely in mobile trolleys, or in lockers, and can be placed in practical personal boxes that can be taken along to the workstations.
Cloakrooms, copiers, printers, recycling containers and coffee corners are all inside of "Communal Cells". Their walls of varying heights not only divide the office space into different areas, but also reduce both acoustic and visual stimuli at the workstations together with the screens at the individual desks. At the same time, these communal areas are social meeting places for the colleagues from the various "neighborhoods". Employees can meet here on short notice or by chance. They can hear the latest news and learn things from each other.
A room that is carefully planned and furnished has an extremely pleasant atmosphere on account of its concentrated use of space. Individual workstation areas are separated from each other, in order to reduce visual and acoustic disturbances. Traffic between the workstation areas is laid out in such a way that employees are interrupted in their work as little as possible. This means that talks are predominantly held in meeting rooms, in the communal hubs or in the office forum.
An office protocol must also be established. It serves to ensure respectful cooperation and interaction in the office. Certain rules should be set by the companies: Should there be a clean desk policy? How long can a catnap be? Others rules should be set by the people who work in the offices: Where should telephone calls be made? How many trash bins should there be, requiring a short walk? Is it allowed to eat at the workstations? As soon as the protocol has been established, all options offered by the "Citizen Office" can be enjoyed.
A "Citizen Office" is also a social centre. In the various "neighborhoods", daily life and work is carried out, while the "Office Forum" takes on a central function. It is here that colleagues from other workstation areas meet, relax, find inspiration or learn from each other, or simply have a chat.
On account of its diversity, the Office Forum is a hybrid of well-known categories. It blurs the distinctions: The "Office Forum" is a productive office and yet it does not feature a single traditional work area. There are lounges, a cafeteria and a library, but also tables for meetings and for working on projects. There are rooms with doors to retreat to and there are open platforms for communication and interaction. The "Office Forum" brings together things that are seemingly opposite to one another – it is an office’s public space and centre of communication and networking and yet at the same time also offers private areas, places to retreat to and spaces for nesting.
As a place for both formal and informal communication, the "Office Forum" is the key for innovation-friendly companies, on account of the fact that is geared toward a constant exchange of both explicit and tacit knowledge. Employees do not need to reserve a room, but can simply find just the right place to talk with each other, regardless if their meeting is spur of the moment, informal or a full-fledged meeting or team workshop.collapse