WRITER: Kasia Maciejowska
Even though medical research suggests it might have adverse health effects, almost all of man’s current surroundings have been designed for sitting. That’s exactly why the experimental studio RAAAF got together with visual artist, Barbara Visser, and devised an edgy work landscape that does away with the traditional desk and chair.
The standing desk probably entered your consciousness at some point last year. It received so much media attention that sitting down all day started to seem as passé as pre-internet office hours – and worse for your health. New desk designs began to appear as a quick-fix solution after people cottoned onto the revelation that sitting for extended periods is bad for your wellbeing, and staying still in general, can detract from health and happiness. For the experimental creative Dutch studio RAAAF, the logical response was to re-think the concept of the office space altogether. Why have desks? Why should workers stay in place? Why not be flexible? What would a free-flowing workspace look like?
Quite the radical interior landscape, the studio’s installation ‘The End of Sitting’ proposes an alternative office to the chair-led one we normally take for granted. Currently at the Looiersgracht 60, a new platform for art and science in Amsterdam, the prototype they have created, a collaboration with visual artist Barbara Visser, makes the gallery appear like it’s fallen victim to a dramatic sandstorm from the future.
Filling the room up vertically by half are a series of angular 3D forms in white and pale grey. The structures tessellate together in a sequence of blocky diagonal surfaces, which can serve as ledges for people’s laptops. It calls to mind architect Daniel Libeskind’s aesthetic, and is evidently the product of a digital logic in design. Its location between the rough industrial walls of Looiersgracht 60 also suggests the adaptable nature of the model, which could be reconstructed in a modular way to transform any space into a pop-up office – often a requirement in post-industrial cities. This project follows RAAAF’s animation called ‘Sitting Kills’, commissioned by the Chief Government Architect of the Netherlands. Both animation and installation aimed to prompt the total re-thinking of working environments.
The nexus between designed spaces and their social impacts is at the core of RAAAF’s vision. The company’s name stands for Rietveld Architecture-Art-Affordances and is led by Prix de Rome Architecture laureate Ronald Rietveld, philosopher Erik Rietveld, and architect Arna Mackic. Writing from his studio, Rietveld describes ‘The End of Sitting’ as being “at the crossroads of visual art, architecture, philosophy and empirical science,” where “the chair and desk are no longer unquestionable starting points.”
By inviting people to explore different standing (leaning or even lying) positions through the geometric recesses that are waist or shoulder height, ‘The End of Sitting’ opens up an investigative dialogue between the body and interior architecture. Though it is set in an art gallery, it may surprise you to know that ‘The End of Sitting’ actually functions as a method for gathering scientific research. Visitors to the gallery are as important as the installation itself, since they actually function as voluntary lab subjects – Dr. Rob Withagen, psychologist at the University of Groningen’s Center for Human Movement Sciences, is studying how they use this space and the amount of movement and productivity they achieve, as compared to being in a traditional office.
RAAAF uses design’s transformative capacities as a vehicle for re-envisioning every aspect of our lives, here turning their attention to a business setting. “What interests us is what the world would be like if we were free of conventional limits”, says Ronald Rietveld with utopian verve. “What could be new thinking models if we lived by a different set of rules?” he muses. “Showing these visions is the aim of each project and ‘The End of Sitting’ is really a thinking model that questions our ‘sitting society’.” No small task, but a challenge that seems right up RAAAF’s alley.