Work and lifestyle on the cutting edge. In discussions with contemporaries we review the assertions, clichés and ideals which circulate around work environments. This time we talked with designer Christian Horner. In an interview with Désirée Schellerer and Angelika Molk he spoke of the office as a public space, the importance of communication and the spatial depth of open space.
Designs by Christian Horner are characterised by elegant lines and a love of detail. He is able to reinterpret classic shapes. Born in Starnberg near Munich in 1968, the designer grew up in Italy and studied in Ron Arad’s master class at the University of Applied Arts in Vienna. He has worked with renowned design agencies in Paris and Milan. In addition to his work for Bene since 2000, together with Nada Nasrallah he has designed objects for companies such as MDF Italia, Rapsel, Ligne Roset and Wittmann Möbelwerkstätten.
Christian Horner, you design products both for residential as well as office areas. Do you always have the same approach, even when you are working on entirely different categories of product, or does the design process change depending on the task at hand?
The process can actually be very different. The systematic and repetitive character of office furniture requires convergence above all in terms of the overall consideration of the area. The start of the process involves working out possible floor plans and furniture and material combinations, with the details developed at the end. However, these finer points then become hugely significant. Don’t forget that once defined, a surface or shadow gap can then be repeated hundreds of times throughout the area.
With residential furniture and accessories the functional requirements are not as prevalent as they are in the office. The products can be more expressive, and the design process is different as a result.
It is often said that the boundary between residential and office environments has become blurred in recent years. How does this affect the design?
It is true that working and personal lives are increasingly merging. From a design point of view this means that harshness and severity in the office are alleviated using softer materials and shapes. Nevertheless, the style of the office remains very simple and clearly regimented. The more emotional products which are gradually appearing in the central areas are also subject to some extremely strict rules. This has to be the case as well - you don’t choose an office for just yourself and your family, on the contrary, it is a place which has to cater to lots of different tastes, people and frames of mind. The office is a public space.
What does this mean in terms of collaboration in the office?
Just like in an urban space the public space of the office also needs a code of conduct. This is immensely important in an open and compact office, in particular. Certain rules have to be complied with and certain modes of conduct observed. This is still a new situation for many people, and the modes of conduct have to be mastered in the first place.
Are these observations expressed in your designs? What are the concepts and ideas that guide you?
Basically I allow myself to be guided by my feelings, even if the result can be entirely rational in nature. Then again these feelings for products and concepts comes from observation, vigilance and curiosity.
For instance when I was developing the CUBE_S back office programme there was a desire to give people some of their privacy back, even in open-plan offices, i.e. a little “cockpit” of their own. On the one hand I have the open plan with the open space, the wider view, yet on the other I also have my own private area. Personally I see the wider view and the depth of the open space as something which is very positive - where you catch something of the people walking by, including the noises and movements. That’s life after all.
How does a typical working day look for Christian Horner? Is there even such a thing?
Luckily there’s not much routine; every day is different. Some projects are highly conceptual while others are very practical. Sometimes I spend a lot of time discussing, researching, presenting, and sometimes I need to concentrate and reflect. The more time I spend in this profession the more communication becomes an important factor. I used to take more of a step back and work on problems until I believed that I’d found the solution. Now I’m quicker: I create a draft and start with discussion straight away.
You work alone as well as in a team - how do you perceive the difference?
Design is almost never an individual achievement (unless you’re working as an artist), and the more complex a task the more people there are involved - designers, product managers, model makers, etc.
I find switching between working alone and as part of a team exciting - in a team you learn how to handle others, working alone you learn how to handle yourself. However, I do believe that there is often one person who sustains the idea, even if you’re working as part of a team.
What do you like most about your work?
The unexpected. The fact that you don’t know where an idea will lead.
How and where do you yourself like to work? Do you have a main workplace, or do you work at different locations?
The problem for creative people is that work practically never stops, especially when you’re working with furniture that is always around you. The issue is always on your mind, wherever you happen to be.
What is the most important tool for your work?
My head and the pen in my hand. Everything else helps but isn’t essential for a design.
The thing you most wish for in an office?
Daylight. I think offices with artificial light are awful.
What would you wish for in your work or your workplace?
There are definitely stereotypical ideals, such as an office looking out onto the sea. But I believe that it’s good to work under some difficult as well as ideal circumstances, particularly when you’re working on the issue of offices. It’s good to stay grounded in reality, even if this sometimes involves some disruptive factors.
Thank you for the interview!