To truly appreciate the Slow Car, it's best to disregard the name. The latest prototype from the Dutch furniture maker Prooff, it's not really a car so much as a motorized office chair/mobile desk — and an explosion of what one typically imagines an office chair should be. "Existing office chairs can only go around a table," explains designer Jurgen Bey, who created the product with partner Rianne Makkink. Wouldn't it be better if they could also go outside and travel up to 25 mph?
Dutch designers are already superstars of high-end residential furniture, but they had largely ignored office space. Prooff is changing that by throwing out the staid rules of contract furniture. Already in production are the Ear Chair, a chair with a massive wing at head level to provide privacy for one-on-one meetings, and the Work Sofa, a system of modules that can be connected for powwows.
The idea behind the Slow Car is that workers need to be freed from their cube farms. Makkink and Bey envision corporate campuses populated by Slow Cars, allowing employees to meet in all kinds of environments and even outdoors without leaving their desks — or walking. Bey says the elaborate chairs could also be offered as a business service at airports or hotels. "I could imagine a huge hotel with a lot of space outside, and to have these things as a service to clients," he says.
He's not kidding. Makkink and Bey are among the Netherlands' most respected designers. Their work springs from a Dutch tradition of "creative people addressing the real world in creative ways," says L.A.-based architect Clive Wilkinson, who has designed offices for Google and the Disney Store and plans to use Ear Chairs in an upcoming project. He says the Slow Car is "seriously wacky" but important because it "opens our eyes, in some cases, to the absurdity of what we do, and points us in new directions."
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A version of this article appeared in the September 2009 issue of Fast Company magazine.