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‘The challenge PwC Switzerland faced is most likely one that a lot more companies will have to address in the near future, and might well be essential to the future of office planning. Hardly any firm these days can clearly predict where it will stand in two years’ time. Based on this consideration, we took on the assignment with the goal of developing an office system that successfully addresses the question of flexibility or changeability in close cooperation with the experts from PwC’s Experience Center.’
S. Hürlemann

Hürlemann’s efforts resulted in a bespoke, flexible work environment that he dubbed the ‘Dancing Office’, with a system of mobile wall elements called ‘Dancing Walls’. Intrigued by the concept, Vitra decided to develop the prototypes. Now fully realised for PwC Switzerland, the Dancing Walls have been highly acclaimed, both by the client and in design circles.

PwC Switzerland agreed with Hürlemann’s idea to develop an open-plan office model that can respond to growth and structural change in a flexible manner. In a bid to fortify their position in the ‘war for talent’ being waged in Zürich – where a great deal of the top IT specialists, marketing experts and designers are recruited by tech giants like Google and Microsoft – the company’s second requirement was that the new office environment should be attractive and suitable enough to bring in more of these highly coveted young creatives, for whom work/life balance and the digital lifestyle are a non-negotiable standard. The motto that would guide Hürlemann and PwC Switzerland in the subsequent design process was:

‘We are no longer task managers; we are part of a choreography called teamwork.’

Thus the parallel with dancing was born that went on to inspire the naming of the innovative wall- and furnishing system that forms the central element to the new office design.

With a surface area of 1500m2, PwC’s Experience Center is housed on two floors in an office building in Zürich’s Enge neighbourhood. Instead of a traditional reception area there is a coffee bar which, as a meeting zone, invites employees and visitors alike to refuel, relax and socialise. As the Experience Center works without paper, there is no fixed shelving in the office to structure the large open space. The only structural elements are a few smaller spaces closed off by glass walls that allow for discreet meetings. Hürlemann thus had to devise a system that would enable the creation of structure but at the same time would be flexible enough so that whole zones could change from one function to another. Aside from this question of structure and flexibility, the open nature of the office also presented challenges when it came to acoustics. This issue was partially solved by sound-proofing curtains that can be used to divide the office into different areas, as well as by facilitating phone calls that require privacy by the placement of several phone booths that can be easily moved with the help of pallet jacks. Other than these the architect chose not to create any further closed spaces, instead opting for a mobile wall system that allows areas to be used in any number of different ways.

Hürlemann succeeded in meeting all these requirements by creating a system of easily manoeuvrable wall elements that function, first of all, as mobile room dividers. Easy to move yet heavy enough to ensure stability, each wall consists of a solid wood base on wheels with a mounted metal frame that can be equipped with a variety of different modules. These include whiteboards, and acoustic panels that can also be used as pin boards. Both can be removed at any time and hung on rails on the existing office walls. Other modules take the form of storage compartments, monitor walls with cable trays, wardrobes and even plant walls.

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