EOOS, the likeable Vienna-based design trio, could pass as a boy band. These three designers do not view their ‘threesome’ approach as a hindrance – in fact, they see it as a bonus, as bringing together three different personalities continually gives rise to surprising objects that shape the spaces they inhabit.
Martin Bergmann, Gernot Bohmann and Harald Gründl got to know one another during their time as students at the University of Applied Arts Vienna. During their time there, they completed a master class in design with Paolo Piva. In 1995, the trio got together to establish the EOOS studio, choosing a name from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses”. Every time these three designers create items of furniture or products, they question the purpose and the function. They refer to their approach as poetic analysis, and see their works as a cultural service to society. Their collaboration with Duravit has given rise to products such as the multiple-award-winning OpenSpace shower enclosure as well as a series of familiar wellness products, including the Paiova two-person bathtub. EOOS has won more than 60 international awards for its creations. These include the German Design Prize, the Red Dot Design Award and the prestigious Italian design prize Compasso d’Oro.
You jointly established your design agency back in 1995. What else is there that brings you together?
It all began with our shared vision of a new, poetic design process. It is an idea that continues to bind us to this day. Our work together, and in particular the lively interaction amongst the three of us, continually gives rise to surprising concepts. That is why the results of our collaboration, even after all these years and in spite of our differing personalities and responsibilities, always remain unpredictable to some degree. Our collective challenges us while nurturing our curiosity.
It is said that designers need a great deal of freedom for their creativity. Now you are in an office where there are three designers together. How do you deal with that?
Design is a major process of communication in which each participating partner must contribute their various observations, ideas, innovations and technologies as part of a collaborative and evolutionary path from designer to product. It is a structure in which we need not feel that our freedom is constrained or that we are subject to external control. Even so, it must also be said that such positive partnership experiences are only possible if the partner has a strong artistic design awareness. That is why we made a conscious decision only to take on selected customers like Duravit, with whom we can work together very closely.
How is the unmistakable EOOS design created and what influences your daily work?
For us, design is a matter of navigating a path between getting lost by moving too far away from society and the present, and getting scorched by coming too close to the world. Design hovers somewhere in between. We bridge the gap by employing poetic Analyse®.* This helps us to find images and tell stories as a means of creating designs and, ideally, objects that change their identity or have two parallel identities.
What it is that has changed in the design concept of EOOS in recent years?
In the mid- and late 1990s, our work was focused on objects that allowed for a transformation from one state to another. Today we are more concerned with creating ‘tolerant’ objects, by which we mean objects with which users can enter into an open, playful relationship. The product should not give the user strict rules on how to use it “correctly” but, instead, give the user a sense of freedom. One example is “Sundeck”, the pool with a fold-away cover that we developed for Duravit. Suddenly, users began placing their pools on their terraces, or storing all manner of items beneath the cover. In this way, numerous functions were revealed that we had not even considered during the design process. This is the kind of thing we like.
Your company is very focused on sustainability. You have created many projects that focus not only on aesthetics, but also on practicality, where the overarching goal is to improve living areas. \nWhat are the reasons for this?
This positive change is an important theme for our design collective. The lifestyles we pursue in developed countries are no longer feasible as a model for the future. If the entire world were to live as we do, it would be catastrophic for the environment. \nIt is an exciting time for design. We do not need new fashions, but rather alternative lifestyles that are fit for the future. Our food, our mobility behaviour, our energy generation and our homes – all of these must be redesigned. One of our primary themes at EOOS is “alternative production”. Here, the focus is on alternatives to industrial production that make it possible for us to produce items locally and autonomously. What is needed are products that go hand in hand with sustainable materials and lifecycle design. Simply improving a product is not enough. We also have to re-design systems. For example, in the bathroom, the wastewater system plays an important role. As does energy, and many other elements.
Is there anything that you miss in today's bathroom planning or might even like to change? How do you see the bathroom of the future?
Everyone should be able to plan and furnish their bathroom in a manner that suits their personal requirements. People must carefully consider which functions they really require. Le Corbusier, for example, decided to expand the place for cleaning to include the entrance to his home by placing a washbasin there – simply because he had the feeling that it made perfect sense in that very spot. For us, the bathroom of the future is a cross-generational bathroom in which everyone feels good – from babies to great-grandmothers. In addition, the densification of cities is certain to pose a fascinating challenge for designers in future, as it is important that we come up with a way to create spaces for cleaning and relaxation amongst skyscrapers and mega-cities, and discover how the contemporary articulation of a bathroom in such settings might look.