It's in the spirit of the space: Bocci opened its new headquarters in a former courthouse in Kantstrasse in Berlin – a creative laboratory that goes far beyond the notion of a showroom or workplace. It is all about capturing processes in a spatial manner.
Omer Arbel believes in the numerical system. No matter what projects the creative director and founder of design firm Bocci pursues, they all bear the chronological numbers of their conception – even if their realisation took place much later. This November, the Vancouver- and Berlin-based company celebrated its 10th anniversary with a new location in Berlin. Occupying a former courthouse, the five-storey Bocci 79 – in this case both project and street number coincide – matches the idea of a headquarters, showroom, manufacturing facility, and creative playground in one.
“For the first 10 years, the products have dominated. In the new place, we are going to develop the next decade”, says the Canadian-born architect. In his oeuvre so far, buildings have only existed as conceptual models or competition proposals. “Every year we make between five and ten experiments. Out of those, only one becomes a product in the Bocci catalogue. The others go into the archive, because they are so strange.” During the London Design Festival in 2013, Bocci presented a large installation in the lobby of the Victoria and Albert museum. “There was a shift of attention away from the product to a much broader investigation in the fields of architecture and interiors.”
Typically, the company does not think in a target-oriented manner. “In our case, we never begin with a fixed idea of what we want. We develop a process for experimenting with the material and let the material teach us what form it wants to take.” In other words, Arbel doesn’t design a lamp but a process that could result in a lamp. The same approach is being undertaken on an architectural scale in the current renovation of a family house in Vancouver. “Humans spend an immense amount of time moulding a home into rectangular shapes. It is four to five times more labour to build wooden walls and take them down. That’s why concrete is so expensive. To me, this is a very clear indication that we are working against the material.” Instead of using a cubic design, he introduces four objects that look like enlarged funnels traversing the whole building. “By respecting the natural behaviour of the material, we create a very expressive shape that’s inexpensive to build.”
The new Berlin site supports this spatial exploration. Inside the Wilhelminian-style building, a huge staircase appears like a three-dimensional Escher painting. A large mirror covers the steps on the second floor and allows an unexpected angle of view – extending the staircase into infinity. “In six months, we will open a porcelain atelier, and in twelve months, a glass atelier. The plan is to use this staircase as a laboratory for the work that is happening in the adjacent rooms.” To underline this approach, Arbel presents a series of unfinished lamps, “almost like a sketch of an idea”.
At the start, coincidence played a crucial role. When Omer Arbel travelled to Berlin one year ago, he had lunch with architects Armand Grüntuch and Almut Ernst. “They had purchased that building and the former women’s prison next door. While renovating the prison to make a hotel, they wanted to do something different.” The next day, Arbel went with his business partner to Kantstrasse 79. “We immediately fell in love with the space. After that we had only three or four days to make a decision – a decision that would change our whole life.” It would seem that a new chapter in the Bocci story has just begun.