Laurids Ortner, Architect and Designer

Architecture Office Trends Office History

Already ten years ago you have coined the term "hot spot" office. What did you mean by the term and why are you that much interested in the office environment?
The reason for my strong interest in the office environment is based on the fact that it is the place where most people spend an essential part of their time. Thus, the call for a "hot" spot: the place where we spend intensive hours has to be as attractive as possible, it has to provide motivation and more than the usual amount of emotion, and opportunities in the broadest sense. This also includes the opportunity to let things happen which will affect your private life.

Have you ever experienced a similar thing?
No, but I think the reason is probably that architects do not have such hot offices. It is a general trouble of architects that they plan and build very beautiful houses and apartments for other people, but when it comes to their own places of living they tend to be rather careless. Generally this is not a disagreeable trait, but it displays some kind of a deficit compared to their traditional products.

Do you think that this behaviour is caused by a lack of time or money or by the fact that one does not want to design the personal surrounding that markedly?
I think that it is a combination of all facts mentioned. It is true that at least unconsciously a certain restraint/caution can be noticed not to trick oneself with the own formal solutions. Though, that does not mean that you only try daring solutions with other people, but that you have to be very cautious in the handling of your own products. It would resemble a psychological weapon to have to visualise permanently the things you are anyway dragging around all the time. It seems to be some kind of mechanism which causes many of my colleagues to stick to anonymous furnishing, to everyday products, and to avoid everything which is characteristic of or specific to a certain person.

Furthermore, the offices of architects convey a special kind of studio atmosphere, which is interesting as such.
The studio atmosphere is the first sign of the hot spot. This form of professional chaos, of being able to discover anything everywhere, conveys a certain kind of eroticism. I believe that good offices always include something of this studio atmosphere.

Exactly this "professional chaos" is undesired in many "ordinary" offices, very often you even encounter very firm instructions and "office-rules".
That's true, and in many cases the instructions are completely justified. If, for example, domestic attributes are smuggled to the office problems arise. The office is intended to serve as a complementary element to the domestic world and it has to assume totally different functions. In the office I have to try to create a kind of counter-world in order to create professionalism - a certain kind of suspense in the person itself, between the persons, but also in the furniture.

Today, the disappearance of the traditional office is very much discussed. What do you think about these developments, which tendencies do you consider most interesting?
Already in the 60s the idea of the paperless office has presented us with similar tendencies. But basically it has always been proven that the means of communication available can bridge distances but that they do not render the physical place "office" unnecessary. Making communication easier provokes a phenomenon which is inversely proportional: the easier communication is made, the more importance has to be attributed to a physical place where everything can crystallise. It is true that you can work on the aeroplane, in the car or the train, but somewhere some kind of a "hive" has to exist. The very important functions, like discussions, conferences, meetings, i.e. face-to-face communication, cannot be replaced by technical equipment. Personal communication requires adequate rooms, which are furnished attractively. As a consequence new opportunities arise for companies to create a distinctive personal image and a visual identity.

Could you please describe in more details what attractiveness of offices means to you?
Attractiveness means to me some kind of suspense as the major topic. Some kind of electricity caused by the interest in the work and the problems and conflicts arising day-by-day. This kind of atmospheric suspense is an essential characteristic. On the other hand you can also opt for an office which is slightly more opulent than your private living space. Like somebody who is doing his work and is thus very well dressed, these rooms are decorated in a high-grade style. The suspense on the one hand and the high-grade quality exceeding the private life produces some kind of attractiveness, which makes office-life fascinating.

Mr. Ortner, you are teaching at the university of Düsseldorf and you have offices in various cities. Do you consider yourself a "modern nomad" commuting between your places of work?
To me the term "nomad" is still a little bit strange. Like many of my colleagues I am travelling most of the time. The term "traveller" would be more adequate for this kind activity. Travelling as opposed to nomadism is not existentialist, but something freely chosen which can be carried out with some kind of distance. The distance of consideration or reflection is an essential part. At the same time travelling as required by one's profession has become a habit just like eating, drinking, sleeping and walking. If you take the aeroplane to Düsseldorf or the tram to go from an outer district to the city centre in the morning can only be measured by means of the vehicle. You cannot make much use of this hour, some people read entire novels ...

... what do you do during this time?
For me it is a time to relax, to get clear in my mind, a mixture of waking and sleeping, dozing, thinking.

Do you have any personal office imagination which you would realise immediately if you had the opportunity?
I still picture an office which has the status of a "glamorous agency". Beautiful women, floating around, having wonderful ideas. Everybody is in a good mood, good-humoured, earns a lot of money and the ambient conveys the image that everybody is feeling fine and that electricity and suspense are around. In the 70s some advertising agencies conveyed this flair. When entering the agency you encountered a well-proportioned woman in a red angora pullover and your heart immediately sank into your boots. You were flabbergasted right at the entry and you forgot what you really wanted.

Strikingly your scenarios emphasise the people and the atmosphere, while the furniture - although you are also a designer - is graded second.
Actually, values have to be distributed exactly like that. The furnishing can only be a wrapping, the background and the stage. "Actors" and "stars" are the people working there and the visitors. However, it does not at all mean a depreciation of the furniture. It is extremely difficult to produce furniture which displays on the one hand some kind of self-evident quality, and on the other hand unobtrusive finesse setting off the people using the furniture. The same principle applies to clothes: they have to support the personality of the wearer. Hence, office furniture manufacturers have to fulfil a difficult task, which has actually never changed. Fashion demonstrates very plainly which tasks the line of business has to fulfil and what can be achieved. It has to seize in the right places, grasp and perhaps strengthen and support the backbone, the posture. Thank you for the interview.

1941, born in Linz. 1959-65 architectural studies at the Technical University of Vienna.
1967, co-founder of the art, architecture and design group Haus-Rucker-Co in Vienna.
1970-87 atelier Haus-Rucker-Co in Düsseldorf in collaboration with Günter Zamp Kelp and Manfred Ortner.
1967-87, professor at the college of Art and Industrial design in Linz.
Since 1987, appointment to the State Academy of Art in Düsseldorf as professor of architecture.
1987, founding of Ortner Architekten in Düsseldorf, together with his brother Manfred Ortner.
Since 1990, ORTNER & ORTNER Baukunst Ges.m.b.H. studios in Vienna and Linz, since 1994 Ortner & Ortner in Berlin.
Since 1985 Laurids Ortner works for Bene as designer and architect.

As regards his numerous buildings and projects we only want to refer to the Viennese museums' accommodation Museumsquartier which is now under construction and shall be opened in 2001. Right now the Architektur Zentrum Wien ( shows an exhibition presenting the much discussed and conflicting history of the Museumsquartier in the tension between politics, society and media.



Désirée Schellerer

Public Relations Manager