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Alex Lorenz, designer of Kivo Alex Lorenz, designer of Kivo The Kivo can be configured in an 'S' or a 'C' shape The Kivo can be configured in an 'S' or a 'C' shape The geometry and material properties create acoustic dampening as well as visual screening The geometry and material properties create acoustic dampening as well as visual screening
19 May 2014

Herman Miller's Kivo: A workspace revolution?

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German designer Alex Lorenz explains how his fascination with algorithms led to a collaboration with US furniture giant Herman Miller

At Clerkenwell Design Week, the contract-furniture behemoth Herman Miller will showcase its latest innovation, a modular workspace divider called Kivo, before it is rolled out to the rest of the world.

Kivo, designed by young German designer Alex Lorenz, is a free-standing modular structure that is enlivened by volumetric triangular modules. The system can easily be reconfigured, creating a dynamic workplace that can adapt to changes in both work activity and behaviour. Herman Miller claims it can help "redefine the way people work". Its designer, however, is something of an enigma.

He studied business administration in Cologne and the only product he has brought to market thus far is an urban golf set he made at school.

"After finishing my studies, there was no need for me to create a furniture product," he says. "[But], if you don't have a design education, then you see things totally differently."

Kivo began life as an abstract concept he developed while "playing around" with algorithms on his computer. Practical thinking about the application of the concept in the real world was only the final step of the process.

"[First], there was the principle, then the design, and then came the product that sits in the real world," he says. "There was always this fight with my family and friends because they'd say 'Alex, okay there's this crazy stuff you're doing on the computer, but what's the real use?'"

Undeterred, he developed methods of aligning equilateral triangles in space, and found there were multiple possibilities for creating "rooms within rooms". As a child, Lorenz says he was always creating his own caves – "behind the curtains or in the forests" – where he could hide and feel comfortable. He likens this to the need for private space in working-plan offices.

Inspired by the American neo-futurist architect Buckminster Fuller's architectural domes created using equilateral triangles, Lorenz wanted to go further and create a system where all the shapes and lines were the same size, and the compositional options were endless.

Realising he may not be taken seriously if he approached prospective commercial partners with a handful of drawings, given his lack of experience, Lorenz decided to manufacture the product himself initially to prove it could work.

Impressed, Herman Miller acquired the exclusive rights to Kivo, and subsequently refined and consolidated the range. The final product is a free-standing modular system, available in three shades of grey and six colours, that can be configured in either an S or a C shape. Attached by magnets, the tiles can be easily swapped and changed.

The tiles are made with a layer of polyester fibre sandwiched between two layers of felt. These are manufactured in a similar way to the lining in cars, which acts as a noise and shock absorber. Kivo traps airwaves between its tiles and its irregular surface deflects them to further dampen sound.

So, what's next for the design wunderkind? "I'll be going to an island and having some cocktails," he says, deadpan, before laughing. "No, I'm always trying to come up with new ideas. There are always some small and bigger bubbles coming out of lots of ideas to develop, but most of them are still in the development stage."

Right now, he says his focus is on launching Kivo – this week in the UK, next week Asia, then Latin America, and most likely North America afterwards. The pressure for Kivo to live up to Herman Miller's expectations doesn't appear to faze Lorenz. He appears relaxed – confident even – about its official introduction. Could Kivo help define the next generation of workspaces? No doubt, Clerkenwell Design Week visitors will be keen to find out.

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