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Published 07.12.2021

Event — A roundtable discussion with Snøhetta and Form Us With Love

+Halle takes a multidisciplinary research approach to design, assembling some of the world’s leading designers to create purpose-based furniture. At the heart of +Halle’s collaborative, research-based method of working is an annual briefing, each one focusing on a particular behaviour and the philosophy and history around it.

In 2019, +Halle held its second annual briefing, which was organised around the theme of Sharing. The first session involved conceptual presentations from the invited designers, as well as talks from an anthropologist and a social entrepreneur. Following a series of collaborative crits, two products were developed and manufactured. The Stockholm-based design studio Form Us With Love presented ‘Picnic’, a round table with integrated seating, while global architecture firm Snøhetta produced ‘Summit’, a modular multi-level seating system.

A roundtable discussion, held in Copenhagen in November 2021 brought together the designers to hear their thoughts behind these collections, and experience of working through the annual briefing process. For the first time since their initial meetings, they were able to meet face to face, and once again share their ideas and the same space.

Lia Forslund (LF) — Design strategist and writer at +Halle:

‘The fact that we can share this moment brings a lot of joy, but also means that we can have a conversation and learn from each other again, away from the screens. We have spent the last years thinking about sharing without being able to physically do so, thinking about what it means, and how we miss it. How did your idea of sharing evolve during the time we had to spend apart, isolated during the pandemic?’

John Löfgren (JL) — Creative Director and Co-Founder of Form Us With Love: 

‘I think the topic of sharing is quite grand. As a studio, we’ve always been intrigued by what you could do together – we don’t really believe in the lonely genius. The business we’re in is kind of closed, so we were happy that Martin and Lars let us push +Halle in this direction, to bring in wonderful people to explore and share ideas beyond the object itself. It creates a springboard for making things that are trying to do something different. And that’s due to sharing.

What we’re seeing today, sitting together and seeing people in real life, it’s a lovely feeling. My heart started aching seeing people I haven’t seen in several years. It’s never been this easy to talk about a product, because we developed it together. This is the kind of the place I want to be: with friends, having a beer, in this little cocoon. And the hostile things are outside of this bubble.’ 

LF — ‘And Marius, we had extensive conversations about sharing in 2019. And we couldn’t share and we were always on screens together talking but you were also referring to how you’ve dealt with it also, with your team, and how you developed the product that you see here today.’ 

Marius Myking (MM) — Director of Product Design at Snøhetta:

‘Our whole way of working is based on sharing, so this was a perfect project for us. Although that’s super grandiose – I mean, what is sharing? Going through this process was a challenge, and we needed to narrow it down. We approached it philosophically, talking about what defines sharing, and how we could create spaces and objects that allow you to share. What we settled on – to make a very long story extremely short – is that you need intimacy to be able to share something meaningful. We started exploring how we could create intimacy between two people. But then we thought, can you have intimacy between a lot of people, and how is that done? 

We then looked back, into the history at amphitheaters, and how they produced cultural spaces on staircases simply by providing a place where people could gather. We also learned a lot from how landscapes naturally form, which led us to realize that it’s simple. That if you just have different levels or steps, that’s already a new zone of intimacy. That way, we can allow for people to create different spaces with different levels of intimacy, and create spaces that people can share.’ 

LF — ‘By starting with the annual briefing and introducing ideas from anthropology and ethnology, we were in a metaphysical world for a long, long time. Traditionally, designers and architects are pushed to the table to draw quite quickly. But here, in the first instance there was no product at all. It was just a presentation with words and symbols and ideas. How did you feel when you were presenting that for the first time?’ 

MM — ‘It was fun. And I thought it was fitting according to the ambitions of the project – talking about these bigger ideas before actually going into product design and finding common ground among the collaborators that we had gathered. Gaining that input was invaluable.’ 

JL — ‘On that topic, in terms of who’s invited to these sessions, we wanted to break the rules of mine and yours, that this is secret, and this is not. We’re not starting off with, ‘this is my idea, and this is why’, so we have a process that ensures people can say, ‘hey, can we do this instead?’, without stepping on someone’s toes. I think that’s quite important in a setting like this, because we didn’t really know each other when we started this journey.’

LF — ‘It’s a lot to do with these types of constraints when you’re considering such big questions. We talked about sharing and what is not sharing; about openness and closeness; about the difference between sharing and exchange. All these questions started floating in the air. And of course, you have to then put the constraints on it. Could you tell us a little bit about how this more metaphysical world of our first meetings developed into the products we see today?’

JL — ‘The path we went from – a kind of theoretical one – is always preferable when you have the time and resources to go in-depth. So we really tried to take advantage of this, and see what these really interesting competences brought to the table. We looked at a project by someone that put up cameras in order to see how people behave in semi-public environments, for instance. The cameras tracked that people used the same three seats way more than the other ninety-eight seats. And why is that? Is it the corner of a table, perhaps? Or maybe it was the light or the window.’ 

LF — ‘And Marius, you were also talking about the design’s historical roots, because what happens when you have these conversations is of course you start looking back in time. What did you find when you went down that route?’

MM — ‘Well, I think that’s quite a natural path to investigate when you’re working in an office like we are. Looking through history at things that are still standing today – there’s a good reason that they are. And a lot of times these things that survive are not there for just one purpose. They are multi-functional. If you go to our Oslo office, for example, we have a huge staircase in the middle of this rebuilt warehouse. That’s where we meet. We have Monday meetings there every week to talk about where we are, how things are going. It’s often where we put samples down to see whether something works. And it’s quite an easy tool to use.’ 

JL — ‘And again, it relates to intimacy. I think that’s what a round shape does to both a room and to an environment. Where do I feel that I could share my deepest secrets? I think of a bonfire, or the Knights of the Round Table. In developing Picnic, we focused on enclosed things, showing the back to the outside world. Here’s the sharing part, here’s where we discuss or share or show.’

LF — ‘Which is in a way a complete contrast.’ 

JL — ‘Yes, and no, I think the amphitheater that you could do with Summit is just on a grander scale. 

It’s a nod to any architects out there to say, ‘Hey, I can’t just mess up this room with furniture’. One chair has four legs, so we thought, how can we now house eight adult people with four legs? It was a challenge to do a lot with small means. We had a lovely journey doing it too. Thinking about how people would climb into the seat, how many openings there should be and why. 

We had a lot of fun doing one-to-one mock ups with Picnic. We used these to think about how many openings the table would need – one or two or none. And also what could you expect – could someone actually travel beside you in this small gap? Maybe not, but maybe I could at least put my legs over and join in if I’m not wearing a too-short skirt. The table is like a hub that you could and should join from any direction. It has a kind of a sparkly playfulness that is similar to that of Summit, something that feels exciting in the semi-public environment. It feels like I’m a kid.’

LF — ‘I want to get back to the process, and the idea of crits. After the annual briefing, you come together and you have crits together. And this is quite unusual because usually as a designer or architect you are presenting to a client. And in this case, you present to another designer or another architect, which is daunting. Maybe, Marius, you want to tell us about that initial process of actually having to present to each other.’ 

MM — ‘Most of us know that presenting to your colleagues can be ten times worse than presenting to a client. There’s a certain different kind of tension in a meeting like that. However, I do think that we all went in there with the strong intention of wanting feedback. Instead of going in and telling the rest of the group what we thought was best, we wanted to have a discussion about what this may lead to. And to ask, how can we make this really good? Through that process, too, there’s definitely an added comfort or security in what you’re doing together, because you share the responsibility of the end result. And sharing that responsibility can actually be quite nice. Going in and having to convince a client is very different. It doesn’t make it worse, or better, but it’s definitely different. And that was a unique experience.’ 

JL — ‘I think it’s important who you’re working with, too, because there are people that would not want to hear feedback like this. It’s a personality thing, being open to someone saying ‘I think you should do this instead, because it’s way better’. I think that is the first threshold: make sure that people you’re bringing want to be part of something that is more collaborative than they are used to. I think that’s key.’

LF — ‘And also inviting other people into the mix, like the experts, who come in with new perspectives or unexpected questions. I wanted to ask one last question: what do you feel that you’ve learned from each other?’ 

MM — ‘This process and seeing how you guys work has been a little bit of an eye opener because I agree that the business that we’re in has a tendency of being way too closed. The only thing that you see are finished results, very little process. And getting a better understanding of how other people, other professionals, are able to get to those results is invaluable. I think there were a lot of similarities, but there’s definitely differences too.’

JL — ‘Something that struck me now about Snøhetta was that everyone I met on the team had something in common. A kind of humbleness in what they were doing, in the appearance of it. That’s something I felt and still feel with people from Snohetta. And when you meet people from another company and you feel that they share the same bigger perspective, that’s inspiring.’ 

Gallery from the event05

LF — ‘And now I just want to open up the discussion to questions or thoughts from the audience. Our first question is: Has anyone ever presented something that just didn’t need any criticism? Or is there always room for improvement?’ 

MM — ‘That has never happened.’ 

JL — ‘I think this process encourages you to open up. It’s not like we present a complete render that looks like a photo. We use a medium that’s easy to add to. And so rather than criticism, it’s building something together: you could do this or that, or have you thought about that? With this project, there are more stages in the process than usual perhaps. So it’s easy to come with input without it feeling like criticism.’ 

LF — ‘The next question is whether you had a deadline in this project, a point where you had to stop adjusting and critiquing the work and settle on a form.’ 

JL — ‘For sure. Otherwise, it’s never ending.’ 

MM — ‘Yeah, it’s part of the process. And the further along the process you are, there are things that aren’t really necessary. If you already ordered the cow …’ 

JL — ‘…you could shoot the cow!’ 

MM — ‘There are different things that are being discussed at different points. Building from the bigger idea, all the way to how the details work together. And so I think the process feels quite natural. I have to say though, that being able to work with you guys was a huge comfort when we were launching, knowing that it wasn’t just something we thought was good, but it was something that you guys thought was good. And that brought the stress level a little bit down too, because it can really be stressful launching something new.’ 

LF — ‘We have a question about the features of this process in particular. Are there any direct correlations to the insights you had from the experts?’ 

JL — ‘Of the insights we had from this journey, there were the things that stuck, and the things that marinated more slowly. So it’s just in the mix.’ 

LF — ‘In the beginning, there were lots of ideas about openness and closedness, for instance, and about what is pre-prescribed and what is not. These were the kind of theoretical things we were talking about along the way. But of course, as John says, the early stages of the process travel with you. At some point, the products take on their own character. We now have two purpose-made and beautiful designs making their way out and into the world, containing within them three years of our conversations and collaboration. 

Thank you for sharing.’