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Changing Frameworks

Changing Frameworks 

New Structures as Collective Effort 

An abstract idea turns into accessible spaces: USM and UN Studio have initiated a dialogue about the future of labor. We introduce the minds behind it – Thomas Dienes and Alice Haugh. 

On the one hand, a classic – a modular system which has been successful for over fifty years, precisely because it’s adaptable to all situations, whether life or work: USM furniture systems. On the other hand, a network of people working in progressive architecture, over and above housing construction, with their eyes on the future: UN Studio. And a shared desire: to design something together.

Thomas Dienes, head of product development at USM, and Alice Haugh, a futurist in UN Studio’s Futures department, have spent a lot of time together over the previous year. Working together, creating something in common, also welds people together at a personal level: both radiate a respectful and friendly sense of togetherness. Mainly, they laugh a lot – even when mentioning conflicts that came up during implementation. “We definitely fought, but in a positive way. UN Studio and USM look at things from different points of view, so there was friction. But only because we wanted to find a good solution together,” says Dienes. Haugh recalls: “Specifically, it was about a couple of really crazy ideas, or rather how to justify them. For instance, our idea of designing floating rooms.”

But one thing at a time: how did USM and UN Studio actually find each other? How did this collaboration come about, which not only resulted in a prize-winning presentation at the Salone del Mobile in Milan, but also the WorkHouse? As with all good partnerships, in the beginning was a party and a good glass of wine. In summer 2017, UN Studio won a competition and subsequently celebrated in USM’s Berlin showroom. The human mix felt right, as did the respective fascination for the other’s work. “We should do something together” rapidly became “We’re going to do something together”.

What was missing, in the first instance, was an idea. But Dienes delivered. “USM’s modular furniture system has been around for over fifty years, originally developed for storing paperwork. But things change and the world moves on. And we are extremely aware that we have to consider the future. That was the baseline position.”

Both companies bear a responsibility for the future, because they design our environment, Haugh also sees it this way: “We wanted to have a deeper insight into what’s needed, communicate with as many people as possible and develop a common vision.”

But this rather abstract idea, which, Dienes says, was enthusiastically pursued, also had to be made concrete. And it happened: first at the Milan furniture fair, then in the WorkHouse in Biesenthal, accessible rooms evolved. USM’s typical steel ball-and-tube structures became the frameworks for these rooms. In other words: a piece of furniture that itself became a room. Other textures come in, curtain fabrics, cushions, a whole staircase developed: open rooms. In Haugh’s words: “We created spaces that communicate with us and in which we can communicate.”

The idea was to initiate an open dialogue – together with designers and architects – by means of open rooms. This was indeed accomplished, and constitutes the beginning of a collective journey.