In many ways, Bjarke Ingels, the magnetic architect at the helm of Bjarke Ingels Group, presaged the future. With his philosophy of sustainable hedonism, he imagined a world in which environmentalism didn’t need to be at odds with luxury—an idea that has trickled down from architecture to running sneakers. But BIG has been stretching its business model beyond sustainable architecture into more traditional product categories. The firm’s innovation arm, BIG Ideas, is a team of about 10 people, half of whom work on new product development.
That led to the release of a smart door lock last year named Friday. And now BIG is releasing its first couch, developed and sold with the partner Common Seating. Called the Voxel (a graphic and interface design term that means “3D pixel”), it’s a blocky, modular sectional that can be pieced together to fit your room (you know, like a traditional sectional can be). It starts at $3,200.
As Jakob Lange, the head of BIG Ideas, explained to me late last year, fixtures and furnishings are a natural extension for an architecture firm. “Very often, architects are a little bit like curators of building components. We source door handles, lamps, window frames, heaters, and so forth. And so everything that goes into our buildings is something that another designer or engineer has done,” says Lange. “The aim with BIG Ideas was to support the creation of the architecture, [when] sometimes we just simply couldn’t find the lamp or chair to fit our building.”
By creating not just the building, but the things that go inside the building, BIG is positioning itself to take a larger piece of revenue around new construction projects. The Voxel, however, seems aimed less at a few select corporate customers, and more at everyday consumers looking for a sofa to fit their home.
BIG says the Voxel is inspired by everything from the game Minecraft to the modernism of Mies van der Rohe. BIG even cites its own architecture, like the playfully blocky Lego House in Billund, Denmark, as informing the design.
The Voxel is built from four components—a seat, backrest/armrest, pillow, and ottoman. The pieces connect with simple metal cylinders, which slide into holes. By mixing and matching these pieces, you can build all sorts of couch-chaise hybrids, allowing people to sit, lie down, and face different directions from one another. You might even change the arrangement for a party or family visit. And in a play for longevity and environmental friendliness, if any of the pieces gets dirty or damaged, you can swap it out. That might not be the ultimate articulation of sustainable hedonism, but it sure beats buying a whole new couch.