Michal Froněk from the Olgoj Chorchoj Studio: Czech Design is Well-Established
Michal Froněk and his Olgoj Chorchoj studio is one of the top Czech designers. In the interview, we asked him about the role art plays in work premises and where Czech design is headed.
Your Olgoj Chorchoj studio has been working since 1990; in your opinion, what has changed the most in terms of client requests when dealing with their work spaces?
Clients today are more demanding; they are more educated and have more experience. Besides a well-planned layout, ergonomics and the proposal itself, it is important today to reflect the changes in the way we work, which involves the working environment. Today, employees actively work together but also rest. Many companies lead the trend of shared workplaces, where they create miniature cubicles with good acoustics.
Economics also play a role. There are no longer huge desks for managers, but rather miniaturized work spaces that essentially create a work desk. But it’s not necessarily just a question of money - it often happens that people reconstruct historic palace and try to maintain the genius loci as much as possible and sensitively complement it with very contemporary elements.
Can you think of some well-done implementation that caught your attention - something really well-done in terms of offices in the Czech Republic, even by your competitors?
Definitely the new offices for Avast, which were just finished by my colleagues Vrtiška and Žák. This is exactly the approach I’m talking about when companies offer their employees an exceptional environment in addition to meals and snacks. Given the budget, we had a chance to utilize great brands such as Vitra, B&B or Cassina, which means that you are working with the labels, each of which is the creator and leader in the field of style, which gives you the opportunity to create something unique.
A totally different situation was the facelift of Ambiente’s offices that my wife did: an Art Nouveau building, Maiselova Street, a creative team of people who are hanging around over food - it requires a completely different approach. So she put high tables there for quick meetings and supplemented with nice furniture; the graphic design studio Najbrt played a large role, with whom she closely cooperates.
Another well-done realization is Socialbakers by D3A, where they use industrial approaches and are quite close to us, although we are more subtle. However, these technological things are interesting and we use them. For example, container boxes, modular systems giving an industrial impression, which we are preparing for the offices of Koma, which are produced and implemented from their Expo in Milan. It’s also interesting to have a limited budget and being forced to use completely normal materials forcing you to address the spaces atypically or very simply. It’s more interesting than having an open budget.
You often work with glass. Is it utilized even in modern office spaces?
If something is illuminated by a fluorescent light in a polystyrene ceiling, there is nothing to talk about. I’d like to point out that we do not mind cheap stuff – the opposite is true. But we do not like to use systemized solutions because there is no room for creativity.
Glass is a hard material and badly reflects sound, which is why these days we use it only sparingly except for windows and permeable panels, such as for an interesting lighting element. We’re doing a study now of one hotel and quite like playing with this in the form of glass drops or bubbles evoking water and it’s the perfect visual element that illuminates those areas. In addition, it’s still affordable and feasible because we are in the Czech Republic. Thanks to the fact that we are art directors at the BOMMA glassworks and are helping with the transformation of the Rück glassworks, we have the technology every day on the table. It would be a pity not to use it.
Some designers argue that companies first concentrate on the places where their clients visit and rarely focus on their employees. Do you also have this experience?
It’s a cliché - it’s absolutely impossible to generalize. A student sitting in an office filling out forms doesn’t need a veneered table with a massive edge, but an inexpensive off-the-shelf chair would suffice, fundamentally saving you money - economising is important. Additionally, offices are done for a very short period of time, on average every three years and there is no room for design - function and economy are paramount. On the other hand, it’s great to deal with this in an academic environment, think about how it might look in the future; it’s also necessary to shift the development of office space.
We have a huge history of design in Europe, where we have something to follow up and we can refer to historical elements, excellent craftsmanship and genuine materials, or are we talking about Modernism, everything morphed into lapidary, simple forms and exclusive materials? This is all necessary to keep in mind, and take just what we need at the moment.
To what extend can art be present in office spaces?
It’s great when art does not serve a mere decoration at companies, just to prove. It’s better to have one good work at the reception or conference room, than to put stupid things in every office. Cultivated companies have thematically tailored pieces produced for the company or to that space. It may not be just an image, but perhaps an object, a sculpture or a painted ceiling, it doesn’t matter. It’s good when the architect cooperates with the artist, and the entire space is finished, enclosed and refined. This is not the case of offices for three years, which I mentioned, but when someone builds spaces even for decades, so it is good to deal with it and tailor-make it.
Before the velvet revolution and shortly after few considered design to be important in the Czech Republic. How are we doing now, have we improved our relationship to it? Where do we stand in an international comparison? How do you see the future devleopment?
Design existed here after 1945, but there were very few products that actually belonged to the context of what was happening in the world. It was not necessary, because the market didn’t want it – only a little was enough and you sold everything. This has fundamentally changed of course. But a couple of iconic objects appeared, as the creators and producers responsible had the ambition to do great things, and sometimes they really did. These things are few, but you can certainly find them and they’re inspiring. Conversely, the pre-war Functionalist era got top-quality design even among the middle classes, mainly through the organization of cooperative work.
Regarding today’s design in the area of furniture and lighting, the craftsmanship and authenticity that came from our environment is appealing to me. Even our foreign customers perceive the Czech Republic as having huge potential. I can see it even in their students, who are designing for renowned companies, whether they are in the fields of electrical, lighting and furniture. It could be much more but I see it positively, as companies are successful with quality design and I feel that we’re Europeans in this direction and we are the best established from Eastern European countries. There is still too little, but not woefully so.