In the 50 or so issues I’ve been writing this column I haven’t come across a product that has arrived with as much of a philosophical back-story as Koleksiyon’s Oblivion. Ostensibly this is another one of those ‘room within a room’ pieces that the office furniture design industry has alighted upon in an effort to combat the aural and visual detritus of the open-plan workplace but, crikey, some of the verbiage surrounding it belongs in Pseuds Corner.
I meet Koleksiyon’s brand director, Koray Malhan – son of the Turkish company’s founder Faruk Malhan – at its Clerkenwell showroom. He takes me through a Powerpoint presentation that meanders from Umberto Eco (author of The Open Work, the inspiration for Oblivion along with its sister products Borges, Cap, Halia, Vis and Tube) and James Joyce to John Cage and Anish Kapoor with a dash of Gordon Matta Clark and Richard Serra thrown in for good measure.
It’s cerebral stuff and, quite frankly, not something you hear very often in an industry that, by nature, tends to favour practicality and economy over poetry. I suppose the most important question is whether this intellectual framework – and the urbane Malhan tells me the research has taken him four years – amounts to a hill of beans? Is it an elaborate marketing strategy, designed to differentiate the company’s products in an increasingly cluttered marketplace, or has it genuinely affected Koleksiyon’s design?
Paragraphs in the company’s press release talk about “constructing a habitat that acts like a breathing border between different functions, not completely alienating one space from another with fixed walls like a dead end, but connecting the places, while at the same time creating a division between them.” When you read such prose, it’s distinctly difficult not to let out an audible groan. And in person, Malhan is inclined to use a flowery metaphor or two.
He talks about his desire “not to frame someone in a space but allow movement” and how he wants to “make the architect more of a curator of the workplace”. Oblivion was also inspired by music theory, with Malhan even taking up the piano to understand the relationship between architecture and melody.
I guess there are two points to make about this in mitigation. One is that, as anyone who has ever picked up an Italian design and architecture magazine will be aware, there’s a different literary and critical tradition in mainland Europe that fosters, rather than sneers at, this kind of intellectualism. The other is that it only takes a cursory glance at the company’s website to see quite what a step-change the Open Work series is for Koleksiyon. There’s no doubt that Malhan is deadly serious about his work.
So after all that, is Oblivion any good? The honest answer is that it’s difficult to review, because as Malhan points out, the product will change for each project depending on what is specified – he’s keen to emphasise the importance of collaboration in the design process. There are a few certainties, however: it will always have a circular base and top (made from steel) although the diameters can vary to create various conical shapes.
The product’s vertical ribs are made from extruded aluminium that can contain cables as well as fixtures for LED lights. A variety of accessories can also be clipped into place – such as benches, desktops, even beds for a quick nap – and cantilever off the frame, seemingly floating in space. The version I tried used felt on the plywood panels, partly, Malhan explains, because unlike wood it doesn’t have a grain and is therefore easier on the eye in a circular pod.
If, after a couple of years, the specifier wants to change the pod’s configuration then this can be easily done by the facilities manager. And it’s effective too; I walk in and feel like I’m in a different environment. It has a cocoon, den-like quality (which may sometimes let you forget that everyone can hear what you’re saying on the other side of the wall).
Malhan sees Oblivion as a flexible space (or “void” as the official blurb prefers to call it) that could be used for any number of activities. One company is already using it as a coffee shop, he tells me, another for an executive office. He’s also keen to emphasise that the details will be constantly evolving. When I ask if the height of the walls could be adjusted I’m thanked for my question and told:
“We don’t do it at the moment but we can do it… This is the dialogue part for me. Oblivion is really open to change and it could be more open to change.” Seemingly all you need to do is ask.
Putting aside some questionable marketing speak, this “flexible habitat” does the job, especially when it comes to its customisation