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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

To Boldly Go Where No Office Has Gone Before

Through a courtyard, past nose-pierced students dressed in the ubiquitous black attire of the aspiring architect, is the Moscow Architectural Institute, where young minds mull the face of the new millennium.

And what offices of the future will look like is one of the subjects they are currently debating -- a discussion sparked by an exhibition of cutting edge office design called "Citizen Office" and now on display in the Institute

Office design is an unglamorous topic: Slick coffee table magazines typically feature visions of sophisticated domestic bliss, while the design of offices, where many of us spend much of our time, is relegated to the annals of trade journals. But Citizen Office presents a world where the twain meet, where home and office can become one.

Conceived by the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, which is affiliated with the furniture company Vitra International, Citizen Office features the work of three well-known Italian architects, Andrea Branzi, Michele De Lucchi and Ettore Sottsass, who each present their visions of the future office.

Branzi puts a bed in one office, suggesting the 1990s reality where there is often a fine line between work and play, while Sottsass sees a need for the new office to be mobile and creates an office for executive nomads.

In Sottsass' mobile conference room, retro aluminum chairs circle a table lit from above by a near naked string of bulbs -- frighteningly suggestive of interrogation. The space is enclosed in the silver insulative material now popular on the runways of couture designers, but here it is not merely used for its high-tech look but is intended to protect busy executives from the elements as their tent moves from desert to tundra.

One of the premises behind the exhibit is that while much design today is determined by where wires and cables need to be, in the office of the future infrared technology will allow people to place their furniture where they like, independent of wiring needs as is witnessed by the free-standing Siemens gadgets found throughout the show.

According to Michael Kahn-Ackerman, the director of Moscow's Goethe Institute, which is sponsoring Citizen Office, the term "Citizen" is intended to imply a democratic work environment where the employee is a citizen who can choose for himself how his work space will be used. To Kahn-Ackerman, the idea of the show had great social appeal.

"Office design is intellectual and, in a way, even spiritual. Furniture alone is interesting as a cultural artifact, but offices tell us about work and life behavior," Kahn-Ackerman said in an interview.

From the file cabinets to the Siemens computers, sleek forms create an environment of design reminiscent of the avant-garde 1920s when idealistic designers hoped to reshape society. But this does not make it all cold and impersonal.

"Sottsass uses simple forms like the Bauhaus did, but he creates something new with color, surface and textiles. He uses different parts of history to suggest possibilities," said Vitra Museum director Alexander von Vegesack in a telephone interview from Germany.

Furniture in blonde wood and stainless-steel lighting covered with rice-paper shades temper a high-tech feel. A chair upholstered in what looks like a Jackson Pollack canvas, and Venetian blinds, which resemble a Florentine fresco, create whimsical spaces.

The furniture on exhibit in Citizen Office is not available for purchase, but is merely intended to provoke ideas. "We had no intention of creating a prototype, but wanted to demonstrate future possibilities," said von Vegesack.

Support for the exhibition also came from the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Italian Cultural Institute in Moscow, Siemens AG, among other organizations and corporations. To Kahn-Ackerman, one of the positive outcomes of the exhibition is the spirit of internationalism among all of the sponsors.

"At first, the Russians didn't understand why Germans and Italians got together on this project," Kahn-Ackerman recalled.

Having already shown in Western Europe, Moscow is the show's first stop in Eastern Europe, with shows planned for St. Petersburg, Kiev, Odessa and Lvov. According to von Vegesack, having one of their museum's shows exhibited in Eastern Europe typically means the museum itself endsdup absorbing more of the cost than it might in the West. Nonetheless, von Vegesack is dedicated to keeping the channels of communication open between designers in the East and West, particularly between students, a number of whom have participated in educational programs or worked at the Vitra Museum.

Von Vegesack is eager to work with Russian sponsors in the future. A slightly less serious show that he hopes may find a venue in Russia is Vitra's exhibition, "A Chair for Barbie." When it was discovered that the miniature chairs Vitra sells to collectors suited the plastic Californian's proportions perfectly, an international competition was held among designers to create a chair especially for Barbie. Currently on exhibition at the Vitra Museum, von Vegesack is looking for sponsors among the older ranks of Russia's expanding Barbie following.

"Citizen Office" runs through Dec. 10 at the Moscow Architecture Institute, 11 Ulitsa Rozhdestvenka, first floor. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and closed Sunday and Monday. Admission is free. Tel. 924-5810. Nearest metro: Kuznetsky Most.