MILAN — Shedding his “puritanical” attitude against architects designing objects, Rem Koolhaas has shifted scale to create 11 pieces of furniture for the U.S. industrial design house Knoll.
The Dutch architect’s creations, which premiered Monday ahead of Milan Design Week, include a dynamic counter — a stack of three horizontal beams that can be transformed from a screen-like unit to cantilevered shelves and benches that invite people to sit, climb and lean in. The end result is a social/intellectual romper room.
The “Tools for Life” pieces are meant for either the home or the office and recognize that technology is also transforming interiors. Portable devices mean work and entertainment can happen anywhere, while the digitalization of books and music has streamlined the need for shelves.
“Furniture needs to be more versatile. Any activity can happen anywhere. Furniture has to now behave in more than one kind of predictable way,” Koolhaas said.
In Koolhaas’ vision, the pieces don’t just furnish a room, they animate it.
To take his pieces beyond aesthetics, the Koolhaas collection is highly engineered. The same principles of the dynamic counter are applied to a coffee table, comprised of three transparent boxes that can slide and rotate to multitudinous purposes, one of which could be a Lazy Susan.
Similarly, tables — round or rectangular — can be elevated or lowered to a relaxed lounge position, a traditional dining mode or a standing/active stance. They can be paired with chairs that also change height with the push of a red button — or go legless with cushioned floor seating.
The Koolhaas collection, celebrating Knoll’s 75th anniversary, previewed at the Prada showroom. Koolhaas has long designed the sets for Miuccia Prada’s fashion shows, transforming the industrial space for the latest round of cold weather collections into home interiors with some Knoll prototypes as references.
In designing for Knoll, Koolhaas joins the ranks of such architectural legends as Mies van der Rohe, who made Knoll’s signature Barcelona chair, and Frank Gehry, who designed the ribbon-like Hat Trick chair.
“It’s an issue of different speeds,” Koolhaas said. “You can put a great fashion show together in two months, you can put a furniture collection together in a year and a half, and we can do a great building in five years. For me that is the only difference.”
Yet, the winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize acknowledges he had “an early puritanical position that I would never do design.”
Now, he said, “basically, I grew up, and didn’t need to have this repression anymore.”
“It’s deeply satisfying, the quality of designing small things,” he added.