Integrated office from the eighties
03/15/2016 - 22:52

User-centric product design was the norm at Martela already in the eighties. Leena Palsanen tells how the revolutionary InTeam office was created.

At Martela we were very fascinated about the American Action Office –concept in the early seventies. At the same time we introduced our own Finnscape -office furniture series which was less complicated, more economical and better suitable for the  Finnish circumstances. Both the Action Office and our own solution were based in the research of individual needs in the workplace. The observation of the need to have unfinished work in sight and within reach supported the idea of shelves and storage units on the panel right in front of you.  

Finnscape was a success from the beginning. In Finland it was common to have private rooms for individuals or bigger rooms for several people. The new concept of sheltered working place in an open room was more flexible and yet gave some privacy. There were many disadvantages, though. It was difficult to get electrical cables easily where needed and to be out of sight. Some workers were complaining of draught because of the openings in the bottom of the panels. The problem with noise was also obvious in spite of background music – or because of that! Our Finnscape series needed some developing. It was time to find something new with electricity integrated.

At that time we had four Interior Architects working with product development and a more in interior design. As there were already good examples of integrated offices in the United States, the whole product design  group made a trip there for better understanding of the idea and for inspiration. After that we all understood our target. There were also some good products in Germany, but we wanted to make something more simple with the idea of integrating electricity and lighting into the product. Noise and air circulation had to be solved as well.

We had several partners involved in the process. We made lighting prototypes with a small electricity company in Saukkola. Ensto helped with electricity units and Ahlström with isolation. Finally the new partner in lighting was Orno with which we had worked earlier. We made tests with lighting, sounds, air circulation etc. We planned a special sound generator as well together with Ekono in order to hide normal human voice. It sounded like a fan and you got used to it very quickly, but unfortunately it did not sell. - Why buy noise?

One typical problem of that time was cigarette smoke. It did not disappear easily from those higher and more closed working spaces. Such areas had to be placed close to the ventilation, but it was much better to use separate smoking areas.

The small cables and contact pieces were finally made by our own technicians, because all the readymade units were too big for our panels. But they got the electricity approval and worked well. The cables were hidden inside PVC-profiles underneath the panels and in sides where they could work also as a hinge.

The panels were much steadier than in Finnscape, thus it was possible to use also wider shelves for standing working positions. Those could be used for reading or lighter tasks. Personally, I used to design furniture sitting and make lay-outs in a standing position using the tilted shelf hanging in the panel. So working in a standing position is nothing new!

There were three different heights and three different widths plus two different arch panels with different angles. The panels had soft pastel coloured fabric surfaces or glass plane. The lowest height was used for reception desks and the highest panel could even have a sliding glass door inside. Two meter high panels were divided in two pieces which could have different colours or different surfaces. Much glass was used in the higher panels in order to make them look light and more transparent. Our vision was a working area where everyone could see daylight from windows. Thus the best place for higher panels was in the center of the room and the lower panels near windows. That idea was realized quite successful in Kaukas Head Office in Lappeenranta. The office formed a hexagon and it was ideal for an open space office.

Unfortunately, the real integration with both general and individual lighting was rarely used, because general lighting was often designed already in buildings. However, I succeeded to offer that solution in an office at Enso Gutzeit, where the general lights were directed up and down from the panels. The atmosphere was really cozy. It is a pity I don’t have any picture of it.

At that time I was working both in product design in Martela factory in Nummela and interior design in Lappeenranta area. It was good to test own products in practice, which also helped the design work.

We named the new  series InTeam to emphasize its intimacy and possibility for team work.

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