Oslo-based design studio Elementa brings together designers and artists to create beautiful, functional spaces. Their latest piece in production, the UN Divided system, is a masterclass in high-end, multi-use furniture. Designed by design team StokkeAustad, the UN Divided system allows for maximum spacial flexibility while maintaining an intentional, modern aesthetic. The Norwegian market is just opening up, especially in regards to contract furniture like this, so we’re excited to see where Elementa goes from here.
We spoke with one half of StokkeAustad, Industrial Designer Jonas Ravlo Stokke (and you can check out his own design studio), about the UN Divided system and why it’s the future of office design:
Tell us about the inspiration for the UN Divided system
The inspiration came from a wish to create a light, functional and adaptive system for small and medium businesses.
The challenge was also to create something that is so flexible and rationally constructed that production, assembly and disassembly would be as easy and intuitive as possible. I am glad to report that as it is now, the main geometry of the legs are made up of one single part which is simply mirrored.
Can you take us through both the design and sourcing process for the UN Divided system? Was this more or less challenging than other designs you’ve worked on?
This system is all about the detailing, as the overall shape is very simple and exposed. So even though the concept materialised fairly early on in the process, the real challenge was still ahead. We did a lot of iterations to get the dimensions, placement of tubes, weldments, finishes and mechanical feel correct. The system is also based on standard issue steel tubes, as streamlined production is crucial.
Who is your ideal customer? How do they use the design?
The ideal customer for us is someone who appreciates the idea that the office does not need to be an over-engineered and cumbersome setting. We have deliberately excluded complicated cable management and height adjustments as we want to keep it light and easy. The idea is also that it is so easy to move and assemble / disassemble that it can be done on a weekly or daily basis.
What is your perception of Scandinavian design and aesthetic?
Scandinavian design is adaptive and forward thinking. To be a designer in Scandinavia means that you can explore the boundaries of what design is and should be. We have a design heritage which means design is part of our backbone. The Scandi approach is also very current because it is, like the way we organize our societies, very geared towards the future. The egalitarian, gender-neutral, and fundamentally democratic societies are reflected in the approach to design.
Scandinavian design is also very much a reflection of who we are as a people, meaning we are “nøkterne,” unpretentious and down to earth. It is frills-free and functional at the core. It is, at its best, in harmony with nature in its broadest sense, from the extraction of raw materials to the way it is designed for human beings.
At its worst, it is raw capitalism exploiting cheap labour in low-cost countries and pushing styling over content through ruthless marketing and sales strategies. I think stories of great success can unfortunately attract some cowboys who are in it for the money.
How does the UN Divided fit into your idea of Scandinavian design and aesthetic?
The rationale behind its functional, pared-down aesthetic and crossover approach to the home office is fundamentally Scandinavian.
What are the pros and cons of multi-use and/or modular designs? For the designer and producer? For the customer?
The pros are obvious with fewer products solving multiple needs saving space, money, materials. The danger is that you end up with an object which does many things badly, and no one thing well. Like a swiss army knife, it will get you out of a fix, but it is a terrible tool. In the industry we call this a toaster phone (Editor’s note: Toasterphone! Integrate it into your daily life).
How does the UN Divided system fit into your design universe? Is it disruptive or does it follow a thread?
It is not disruptive. Much of our work done is for the office, and exploring how the office is changing and how we as designers can cater to changing needs and habits. In this regard it follows a narrative.
What’s important to you in your office space? Tell us in the comments!