Work for life

Based in Barcelona, designers Alberto Lievore, Jeannette Altherr and Manel Molina formed the design studio Lievore Altherr Molina in 1991. Since the company’s inception, they have collaborated with organizations around the world on product design, consulting and art direction. In 1999, Lievore Altherr Molina began working with Arper, designing some of the company’s most recognizable furniture including the Leaf collection, Catifa and last year’s Saya. Here, the designers share their thoughts behind their newest designs: Colina and Zinta.

© Marco Covi

How do you think an environment informs or shapes the life lived within?
We firmly believe that the mood of a space, the attitude of its elements and its furniture, has an influence on how we feel and behave. This is not only true for our home or our workspaces, but for all kind of environments: schools, universities, libraries, hospitals and airports. A space can help to heal, educate, relax, concentrate or gather. It is a system of social structures, a way of organizing, a confluence of sound, temperature, light, architecture and objects. Furniture is the part of the environment that is closest to the body. People identify strongly with objects.

How are thoughts of life and work connected? Are there different demands on spaces for work and life?
This is a continual topic of discussion between Arper and our office and something we see reflected in the cultural zeitgeist. We are constantly discussing the lack of clear borders between work ending and life beginning. Why is the complexity of designing considered work, but not that of family life? What does it mean to work on our relationships or on ourselves? What is the divide? Our own workspace has changed a lot in the last 20 years. Instead of a real table we work on a big virtual “table” — the network of our computers. We no longer need to be together in person in a defined time frame. This flexibility allows us to switch constantly between private life and work life: a meeting with a client, then a personal phone call, a visit to the school event, reading an interesting article that we discuss with our colleagues, then a correction of a prototype. In the same way, we constantly bring observations and experiences into our design practice. It is our life that feeds and inspires our work. Work is not just a job. Life and work are… no, not always the same, but undividable.

© Marco Covi

What role does the Internet play in the melding of work and life?
With the evolution of the Internet — open 24 hours a day, seven days a week — we are able to stay constantly connected, working across time zones and locations. Many work activities like networking on Facebook, answering emails or searching for inspiration in blogs or on Pinterest can easily translate to activities at home. But more flexibility asks for more conscious use. Technology should help us better manage our lives — not to be at its mercy. Do we use laptops and mobile phones as an opportunity to reconcile the balance between work and life, or do they condemn us to always be on-call? Are we efficient or are we workaholics when we answer work phone calls at midnight? Are we able to limit ourselves? Is it even necessary?

How have these changes affected your design practice and working relationships?
The way we work is the way that more and more people are working today. The creative industry’s fluid way of working is becoming a model for many other industries as well. Our relationships become more about communication. Hierarchies become flatter — working styles are less about a leader who solves problems and more about developing projects through teamwork. Younger generations don’t want to live for work, but rather, work for life. They are in search of a better, more fluid balance between both. The border between work and life is dissolving. Many choose to work with less rigid distinctions between work and life. We have long held this opinion and designed with it mind: aesthetics and beauty, utility, flexibility, expression and meaning are essential to furniture and space — for both work and home. And so we continue to design more adaptable, fluid and sympathetic work environments and furnishings. But, in fact we have been working on the idea of the flexible work environment and soft contract with Arper since the very first collection — it has only been recently that this has become such a prevalent trend. Catifa became such an extremely flexible and successful system because its shape holds exactly the balance between being soft enough to work at home, and technical enough to be used in a defined contract. Our other collections have also been inspired by the idea of “soft tech” and are a clear example.

© Marco Covi

You have a long-standing working relationship with Arper. How has your design work for Arper been affected by the changing work/life dynamic?
In our work for Arper these changes mean that we don’t think in categories like “furniture for home” versus “furniture for work.” Moments of life and moments of work happens in the same environment and, sometimes, at the same time. We strive for more than functionality alone; we want our environments to function and have meaning. We consider our environment as a mirror of our ideals and aspirations. We require a reflection of ourselves not only in our homes, but also in all the other environments that we inhabit. Every space is a story, and every part is a little sentence of this story. This demands that furniture has personality, but also is able to integrate in our individual contexts. People want to be able to express themselves through their choices and with different tones of voice — for example, through a diverse palette of finishes.

What was your aim in designing your two new collections for Arper — Colina and Zinta?
The two new collections we present for Arper this year are designed for situations where people meet, connect and communicate — not around a table, but comfortably seated in a lounge. We imagine these pieces being utilized for friends meeting, somebody using a moment of waiting time in a hotel lounge for a private or work call or for meeting with clients in your office. Whatever it is, communication requires an attitude — that of openness, generosity, of being able to listen, to respond and to flow. The two collections we designed for Arper are aimed at helping to create that open attitude for communication.

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