In the Home Report 2021, which will be published by the Zukunftsinstitut in October 2020, you discuss the future of home living. A new concept that you have coined is the “hoffice”. Will the home and the office merge into one in the long run, or is this a temporary phase?
We are all part of a big home work-life design experiment and the leading role is occupied by the ”Hoffice” - the home office. The word is a little like the sound you make when you exhale in exasperation when you can’t find a quiet space, and in German it has a cheeky nod to the word hoffnung (hope).
The Hoffice is fostering a new hybrid lifestyle which I believe is here to stay in one form or another. Our ways of working, like so many other aspects of our lives, will never be the same again.
How should a successful hoffice be designed?
Designing a successful Hoffice is about mental distancing just as much as physical distancing. This can mean different things for different people - from a desk in a hallway, the corner of a living room, to a shed in the garden. The key to a successful hoffice space is also the consideration of all of the senses: how does the space sound, smell, look and taste (in terms of design)?
While it is clearly a challenge - the great advantage is that we are enabled, empowered and inspired to create these spaces according to our own needs, resulting, I believe in the long term, in happier, more productive workers.
With spaces merging and activities merging too as a result, how can work and leisure be separated?
It helps if we think of our relationship to our work as part of a marriage. Most of us are “married” to three things - to our work, to our partners (or our family) and to ourselves. Working at home is a brutal Darwinistic lesson in adaptability, creativity and discipline - not just as we see on the physical design front, but in terms of social design.
Household and personal communication is in the process of adaption to the new circumstances. And like most processes of adaptation during a crisis, we will eventually learn new social techniques, new ways to communicate and balance our needs.
All of these relationships need care, attention, and even new contracts and rules. It is you could say, about renewing and refreshing our “marriage” vows and finding a new normal relationship to our work, our families and ourselves.
Offices are becoming increasingly like homes; private spaces are turning into offices. Will we soon all work on sofas and in lounge corners?
One of the effects of the crisis has been to look more critically at the objects that surround us - in both our offices and our homes. Do we really need bean bags, slides and swings in our offices? The infantalisation of much start up office design has brought into question what we should really invest in for the future.
Safe antimicrobial surfaces and materials which contain an agent that inhibits the ability of microorganisms to grow will be an increasingly sought after material in design for offices. In our homes we will look to investing in functional ergonomic hoffice design that does not need to look out of place in the corner of a sitting room or in a bedroom. Just as our work place is melting into our homes, so too will our furniture need to.
What challenges do you see for furniture manufacturers? What kind of requirements will furniture have to meet in the future?
As well as the above mentioned “material immunity” and the demand for more homely hoffice furniture, I believe we will see increased demand for “hero materials”. This is not just about sustainability, being green or environmentally friendly, but about a more powerful transformative potential.
You could say we are moving beyond the trend we have seen to “authentic” furniture and design, to something akin to “activism”. This includes such things as cradle to cradle products or vegan design. It will also in the future involve increased transparency in the production process - with the demand for impact receipt labels which reveal the cost of production in terms of CO2, water, transport, raw materials, etc.
These will be the products with so-called status sentience. That will bring a new form of respect and care into our homes and our workplaces.
You live near Vienna in the Future Evolution House, which you were involved in designing and building. What does your personal hoffice solution look like?
We designed the house in 4 modules: hub, love, kin, and work that could adapt to any given circumstance or lifestyle changes. My hoffice has always in fact been just that - a room that is cosy with books, a sofa, carpet and velvet curtains. It is across the lawn, far enough away from the main “hub” (and the fridge) to not distract me, but it is also not so cosy that I am tempted to take a sneaky snooze.
During the lockdown where we had 4 more people living here than usual it worked well - although sometimes too well as others were very keen to use my room and I found myself occasionally in the laundry room looking for peace and quiet.
Oona Horx-Strathern is originally from London, was a journalist with the English Observer and has made television films for Central Television. For over 25 years she has worked as a trend researcher, consultant, speaker and author. She has written books on the history of futurology, the architecture of the future, and collaborated on numerous studies of the Zukunftsinstitut. As a trend consultant she has worked for international companies such as Unilever, Beiersdorf and Deutsche Bank. The spectrum of her lectures ranges from architectural conferences and universities to the construction industry and the design sector.