A Playful Retreat of Concentration. Akira. Mathias Hahn for Schönbuch

'Akira rethinks the typology of the classic bureau in today's work-life context' - an interview with the designer

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12/03/2021 - For about a year now, the home office has been a constant topic. Many of us had to deal with the design of a suitable workplace and certainly a large part is probably tired of it. Not only because we see ourselves returning to a normal life, but also because the home office is often makeshift and unappealing. But the home office also offers advantages that are worth integrating into our daily work and personal life in the future. It is therefore necessary to find the right furnishings that are not only functional but also have an appealing design.

Schönbuch presents the AKIRA bureau designed by Mathias Hahn. Even though the developement of project began before the Corona pandemic, 'when the current relevance of the home office issue could not yet be foreseen in the slightest,' as Mathias Hahn tells us, AKIRA is a valid proposal for solving our problems. In a conversation with Mathias Hahn, we talked about his perspective as a designer and the product novelty AKIRA, which as Mathias summarises 'rethinks the typology of the classic bureau in today's work-life context'.

'I wanted to design a workstation that doesn't close itself off, but focuses on openness and showcasing. Akira defines its own space, a stage, so to speak, for objects and thoughts that the user can play on individually,' reports the German designer, who works mainly from his studio in London. 'Thus, even when unused, Akira remains an active element of the room situation without degenerating into an anonymous storage space.'

AKIRA features a very closed form that makes the bureau a special eye-catcher, but also transforms it into a retreat of concentration. The desktop can be extended for use via a push-to-open mechanism, providing enough space to accommodate a temporary workstation. 'The focus is on interaction with the surrounding living environment and users,' says Mathias Hahn, so when closed, 'for example, favourite things or sources of inspiration can be displayed. At the same time, the desk is very functional - there are various storage compartments for folders and laptops, as well as two integrated sockets that allow smartphones and tablets to be charged or lighting to be added.'

On the far side of the desktop is a compartment for keeping pens and other office utensils. This is half-covered by a sliding lid that offers easy access to the contents and which, along with the fixed shelf on the left, provides a handy place to showcase decorative objects, flowers or lucky charms.

'The central idea for me was to use the bureau to create a defined but open space that could be a showcase for the user's individuality,' says Mathias Hahn, describing the background of his design. 'In this context, I came up with the curved rear wall, which creates a formal depth similar to a theatre stage or a cove in a photo studio. The primary elements such as desktop and upper compartments, where the sockets are located, I set off in colour to create a contrast between foreground and background. In this way, a certain privacy is created at the workstation, which nevertheless always allows a glimpse.'

Typically for Schönbuch, AKIRA comes in a wide range of matt painted finishes for an individual look, and – as a special feature – the desktop and interior can be ordered in a different colour from the rest of the body, adding an extra highlight to the overall design.

'All in all, the development of AKIRA was anything but simple, but fortunately we never had a point where we were seriously set back. On the contrary, I would say we managed to directly realise the essence and quality of the original concept,' Mathias Hahn answers when asked about the challenges in the project's development process. 'I am proud of the rounding of the back wall, it gives the bureau a strong independence.' It is precisely this independence that makes AKIRA not a typical home office workstation, but a multifunctional design element, functional and decorative - a favourite place to love.

Whether for work or for private notes, AKIRA is a versatile piece of furniture, playful as well as useful. And although the project was started before the pandemic, as already mentioned, designer Mathias Hahn is of course all the more pleased now that his thoughts and design of a balance between work and living environments seem to have a meaning. 'Like many people, I myself have been working very flexibly for years, mostly from the studio, often from home and also a lot on the road,' he says. 'In this respect, the topic of linking work and living environments in a digital present is not really new. What is new, however, is the scope in which the topic has manifested itself in society in a very short time. The home environment has taken on greater importance for many and is perhaps receiving almost undivided attention at the moment. As a result, all the advantages and disadvantages of a closer connection between office and domestic environment are being perceived more consciously. A very dynamic process in which we are far from having reached the end. For me as a designer, it's an absolutely exciting field, because ultimately everything is always about people and the understanding of what moves us and makes us tick.'

Mathias Hahn developed the AKIRA for German manufacturer Schönbuch in his studio in London, which he has been running since 2006 and where he develops designs for renowned companies, institutions and museums in the fields of product, furniture and interior design. 'When I approach a new subject, curiosity and the conceptual component are first and foremost. The why and the context are my focus here,' says Mathias Hahn about his approach to a project. 'I always draw everywhere,' he adds, 'for me, pencil and sketchbook are the essential tools to think and become creative. Then I very often go straight into the model, experimenting with proportions and materials, playing with procedural techniques and processes, or exploring possibilities of material-appropriate production.' The back and forth between intuitive experimentation and critical analysis are for Mathias the key to a functioning design. Digital tools help him in this process, as it does the model-making workshop in his studio.

The contact with Schönbuch came about during IMM Cologne. 'We then decided on the concrete project a few months later during the Salone in Milan,' Mathias Hahn says, 'I remember a very nice dinner in the sunshine, oh, how I miss all of that right now!' I guess, we all do. 'The nice thing about our collaboration is the constant exchange, which especially during the last year has been wonderful,' Mathias adds. 'My thanks go to the development team, which has supported and implemented the work down to every little detail.'

When working with a manufacturer, Mathias Hahn believes that personalities and common intersections play a major role. 'Only if you respect and trust each other a collaboration can be successful', he says and adds with regard to the AKIRA project, 'the interest in details has played an important role in this project. The passion for colours that I share with Carolin Sangha, who is responsible for the creative direction and gives Schönbuch its unmistakable character, is such a point.' This is also where the two factors that play a fundamental role for the designer in a collaboration come into play: 'On the one hand, it involves listening for a long time and confronting myself with the profile of the other person. On the other hand, even with a briefed project like Akira, it involves a lot of trust and the freedom of the designer to define and implement concepts himself. I think it's precisely a self-confident external view that is the great strength of companies that work with external designers.'

Thanks to his 15 years of experience in the design business, Mathias Hahn brings a lot of experience to his projects, which certainly leads to the aforementioned trust on behalf of his clients. 'The beauty of my profession is that it is always in flux,' says Mathias about his path in the design industry. 'We are part of society and culture and thus have an active participation in changes. It is precisely the new demands that our world places on the design of objects and products that makes design an incredibly exciting field of work. I think topics such as the digitalisation of content and processes as well as the question of sustainability and understanding of values are an incentive to keep thinking and exploring new paths.'

Mathias Hahn's idea of design and the values associated with it is clear: 'My work is always about the relevance of products.' In doing so, he is concerned with questions such as: 'How do we perceive objects, what significance do they have, in what context do they stand and what effects do they have.' But how will design develop in the future? 'Real things will always have an important place in the future, the question is how can we manage to develop products that do not lose their meaning for people even in a rapidly changing world. In this sense, sustainability refers not only to materiality, circulation and process, but also to the way we deal with things. Because if we manage to produce objects that become part of our personal everyday culture, we have the chance to use them gladly for a long time and in a self-determined way.'


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