Beyond the 9–5

August 19

Part sofa, part next, part lounge, part presentation space, the GRID SOFA is the foundation of a new system by the Bouroullec brothers that pushes against the increasingly fuzzy border between work and leisure, encouraging creativity through its variety of modules and raw but playful aesthetic. EST Journal talks to him about this unique and pioneering piece of furniture.

“People ask us what you can do on it but we purposely tried not to think too much about that,” says Erwan Bouroullec, one half of the trailblazing design duo. “We didn’t want to forbid any kind of behaviour.”

EST: The GRID SOFA is more than just a sofa, it’s almost a room within a room. Where did this idea come from?
Bouroullec: We are very interested in elements that lie somewhere between furniture and architecture. They have a role inside the space beyond being just a seating element; they create some kind of separation, they help to divide and organise. If you put somebody into an empty room, they don’t know where to go. If you have a chimney in the same room, instantly they will go towards the chimney. It’s the same if you have one tree in the middle of an empty field, people will head for the tree. That object helps your body feel a little more at ease and more secure. The GRID SOFA is part of this research – it functions a bit like a big rock on a beach, it helps you make a decision, even if you don’t need to use it.

EST: It is highly multi-functional. Does this reflect a change in the way we live and work?
Bouroullec:
Yes. The way we behave in public has totally changed. Being together in a room doesn’t mean the same thing as it used to 5 or ten years ago so we need furniture for this new era. The world of work is about movement now. When people had desktop computers they were a bit like workers in a factory as they had to sit at their desks to work. Now you can work anytime and anywhere with your mobile or laptop. People think ergonomics is based on very clear rules of how you should sit, but what you really need is to be able to stand up, walk and sit. We need to move basically and we need to put our body in different postures throughout the day. Diversity of posture is important.

GRID Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec c2019 Establishedand Sons c Erwan Bouroullec Render 02 300dpi

EST: What are the results of the lines between home and workplace becoming increasingly fluid, flexible and blurred?
Bouroullec: I think it has offered many people a certain freedom. Now that you can work anywhere and not in fixed settings you see more people from different cultures and backgrounds, this is especially the case with start-ups. People who were bad at school can find a way to express themselves in this new world.

EST: In the same way, the GRID SOFA isn’t prescriptive in terms of where it can be used and by whom.
Bouroullec: Exactly, you can do whatever you want with the GRID SOFA because it is undefined as a typology. On top of that, the material choice, which is quite raw, also doesn’t give you much information. If I told you it was supposed to be installed in a train station, you might say ‘yes, why not’? The same if I told you it was to be installed near a tennis court for relaxing or in a high-end hotel and be covered in a luxury fabric. As soon as you give very clear information to people, they are totally stuck in a behaviour. Its ‘imprecision’ is what makes lots of different behaviours possible.

GRID SYSTEM L2500 6728 6821 Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec c2019 Establishedand Sons c James Champion Detail 01 B 72dpi

EST: What guided your choice of materials for the design?
Bouroullec:
There is a certain rawness about the piece and its design. Steel is the structure and the centre of the project, it’s strong and durable and can be powder-coated for colour. Then there is yellow wood for the table and sometimes the walls – it is not mahogany or oak and is a bit ‘rough’, like the GRID SOFA itself. Lastly, there are the textile cushions that are soft and very welcoming. You can also put textiles on the walls instead of having a metal grid.

EST: You can also mount a wide-screen TV on the Grid – why was that important?
Bouroullec: We left TV screens behind 10 or 20 years go because we hated the fact that TVs only broadcast public channels. We switched to laptops and mobiles so we could watch things on demand. Now what I see is more and more people becoming prisoners of these very small digital areas with no ability to share. I am getting increasingly interested in finding ways of reintegrating wider screens into our lives because they offer a sense of community and sharing, which I think is very important. Something I find interesting with mobile technology is how it has liberated the body. People are living more and more inside their own digital landscapes. So it means you have people that are in the same room but their mind can be in a very different space. Many times their brains and their thoughts are not in the same room as their bodies.

EST: But is that a positive thing?
Bouroullec: Not when it’s someone crossing the street while on the phone who doesn’t check if there is a car. But in general when people are on the phone or doing something on a screen they might sit down or go somewhere a bit hidden and behave in a way they would never do consciously. In some ways they are much more relaxed and this is quite positive. So with a structure like the GRID SOFA I can imagine that some people will sit on it, some will lay down on it and some will go around the back and lean on it for support.