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This office space has entire rooms hidden under the floor

This modular permanent installation by architect Leopold Banchini is the Swiss Army knife of office design.

Just how many ways can you reinvent four walls and a room?

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[Photo: Dylan Perrenoud/courtesy Leopold Banchini Architects]
Opened this month on the fourth floor of the Centre Pompidou in Paris, architect Leopold Banchini created an installation that looks, at first appearance, like it’s come straight out of a 1980s corporate office. There’s an austere grid of gray-upholstered floor tiles surrounded by four blank white walls. But beneath the sterile flooring lies a Swiss Army knife–like stable of surprises and efficiencies, each neatly tucked away underfoot.

“The museum had a complex brief in mind. They wanted to use the space as a meeting room, a lecture room, a workshop space, a storage space, a kitchen . . . and at the same time, keep an empty space to welcome unforeseen functions,” says Banchini. “Our proposal came from this almost unresolvable complexity so common to large institutions.”

It’s a telling parallel to the major current trends shaping office culture today—and the future of work, more broadly, in a world where work itself is becoming more digital, workspaces need to be more flexible, and physical demands can be as mutable as our constantly wired, short attention spans. Might Banchini’s shapeshifting design hint at the future of the workplace?

Operating as a modular set design, sections of hinged flooring open up to reveal a variety of spaces: A sunken lounge seating area complete with a chic neon-red light; a fully functioning kitchen, complete with a sink, faucet, and hanging rod for drying and storing dishes and implements. Elsewhere, there are event speakers, a media screening station, and even a monochromatic, Instagram-worthy succulent garden. In one area, a whole room-sized inflatable structure—made entirely from PVC, and designed as a portable nightclub by Bureau A, Banchini’s former collaborative outfit—playfully peeks out and balloons outward from a single floor tile.

[Photo: Dylan Perrenoud/courtesy Leopold Banchini Architects]

There are seven hidden spaces in all, brilliantly serving all of the requested functions in one pleasingly tidy, high-concept configuration that would please the OCD minimalist and Tetris fanatic alike. Design heads and fans of Superstudio, the Italian radical design collective of the 1970s, might even consider Banchini’s complex steel structure to be an uncanny realization of their utopian schemas that envisioned the future of manmade landscapes as a fully wired, rational grid.

Banchini, who worked in collaboration with designer Laure Jaffuel, hopes the surprise element of the space will subvert attitudes about the use and design of technical raised floors, a throwback architectural feature that has become decidedly unsexy and stodgy over the years. The resulting space is anything but—and makes for a compelling case of brushing all the function under the rug.

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About the author

Aileen Kwun is a writer based in New York City. She is the author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations On a Lifetime in Architecture and Design (Princeton Architectural Press), and was previously a senior editor at Dwell and Surface.

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