‘Working with Vola is really about getting into their DNA,’ says Aarhus Arkitekterne’s design manager Torben Madsen as he talks Architonic through the office’s new, highly graphic Round Series of paper-towel dispensers and waste bins for Vola at the recent ISH fair in Frankfurt.
And if anyone has an understanding of the genetics of Danish manufactuer, it’s Aarhus, who have collaborated with their client for several years now, and who recently completed the Gesamtkunstwerk-like Vola Academy in Horsens.
Designed specifically for the building – which, as addition to Vola’s existing headquarters, functions as part showroom, part training centre – but now in serial production, the ‘Round Series’ draws on the existing formal language of the company’s products, one characterised by reduction and a rejection of, what design legend Dieter Rams would call, visual obsolesence.
‘In a way, it was obvious,’ explains Madsen, ‘to make these new products round. But, in another way, it wasn’t. Technically, it’s a complex form for putting square hand towels into. But it was the only way to do it. Square forms are strange for Vola. We’ve been there. We’ve done a lot of sketches, a lot of mock-ups, but have always come back to the round form. We wanted to keep a link between the first Vola product from 1968 and today in some way or another.’
The result are highly functional, built-in products (‘Hiding all the technical parts is also part of the Vola mindset,’ says Madsen. ‘You only have to see what is important: the beautiful part. The rest is hidden’), which exceed their utilitarian purpose to become part of the interior-architectural fabric. What’s more, they’re designed as long-use objects (you may be throwing those paper towels away but the bins you’re throwing them into are here to stay), and are, materially speaking, conceived as ‘cradle-to-cradle’, as the designer puts it.
But why a paper dispenser and not some other form of hand drying? Mr Dyson, for instance, seems to be colonising more and more public bathrooms with his jump-jet sounding streamlined electric dryers. ‘Vola actually said “We don’t use paper. We use towels,” Madsen explains. “But, just as we started this project, swine flu was big, and everyone said “OK. We need to use paper.”‘
Whether your a paper or a towel person, or just someone who can’t get enough hot air, the Round Series’ compelling geometry invests these pieces with an kind of universal aesthetic value that makes them appear perfectly natural, almost as if they have always been there. But don’t be fooled. The greater the level of formal reduction, the greater the amount of designerly consideration required. Madsen again: ‘My education as a building architect and afterwards as a designer means I always think about the big scale and then zoom in. It’s so important to think about the small details, for instance the gap between the small circle and the flange around, which is just 3mm. You really have to think hard about the small details when the geometry is this simple.’
Now, that’s no throw-away comment.
to Aarhus Arkitekterne’s ‘Vola Academy’ project on Architonic
to the Vola collections on Architonic