CLESTRA MediaWall: The requirements of the time, translated into space
Modern architecture since the end of the nineteenth century, and more particularly since the period between the two world wars, has revolutionised the conventional concept of construction and ways of inhabiting buildings. No type of building has escaped this profound transformation: housing, shops, offices, training places, and even factories. One of the features of this change in the way of constructing buildings and occupying them lies in the new dialogue created between the structure and the façade of buildings. In the 1880s in the USA, the use of cast iron, iron, and then steel as structural elements made it possible to do away with the weightiness of the loadbearing wall in stone or brick. First in Chicago and then in New York, “skyscrapers” were the result of the introduction of the revolutionary lightweight metal structure. In France the use of iron, with the Eiffel Tower being the most striking example, was to give way to concrete. It also made it possible to build structures using a system of posts and beams. The work of the architect Auguste Perret is a perfect example of this. In both cases – metal and concrete – the system of construction liberated the interior spaces as well as the façade of the building.
For the interior, the disappearance of loadbearing walls gave birth to the “open-plan” layout, which could be divided up as required, using fixed or moveable partitions. These then became increasingly important, turning into real space-creating tools. It is their arrangement, their shapes, and their particular qualities that set the tone of the place; they are the main means of creating an interior architecture.
For the exterior, as the façade lost its structural role it took on a new functional and aesthetic role. The “curtain wall” is witness to this new function. A variety of shapes and materials mean that it can be developed over the entire surface of the building, enveloping it like fabric, giving the impression of a single lightweight grid resting on an invisible structure.
CLESTRA MediaWall continues the line of these innovations. As a separating element, it divides space and creates intimacy. Like all Clestra Hauserman’s partitions, it structures the open-plan area, setting its tone and organising its various workplaces. Its technical characteristics and its mass give it all the traditional functions of a resistant wall that can be leant against or used as a support. Its excellent sound insulation provides the intimate confidentiality of an office or meeting room. It nevertheless remains moveable and adaptable, providing many possible configurations. In this way, CLESTRA MediaWall matches the ambitions of the main players in the modern movement in architecture, headed by Le Corbusier: finding solutions for configuring open spaces by ensuring both the effectiveness and the flexibility of the partitions used. But CLESTRA MediaWall is also a surface, the continuity of a “curtain wall” which appears to be unrelated to the loadbearing structure, and indeed relieves its consistency, mass and weightiness. Its surface is reminiscent of that of buildings by Mies van der Rohe where glass and steel form a weave of a lightweight, transparent fabric offering a panoramic view of the outside world. The Media Wall pursues this modernist ambition and takes it to a new dimension, since it is both internal partitioning and an open space with limitless depth. CLESTRA MediaWall thus reconfigures the continuity between the interior and exterior of the room. It is a partition, a frontier in a world without frontiers – it stands for openness and availability. It solves the impossible equation of separation and openness, isolation and working in a group.
CLESTRA MediaWall transforms the traditional functions of the partition. In addition to separating and insulating, it also brings together, unites, and connects. The membrane-like taut skin of its surface gives a feeling of weightlessness from which sounds and images burst forth without any visible cabling or tools. This active membrane, with the vibrancy of a loudspeaker, offers a range of sound ambiences radiating out from the wall, imparting a new aesthetic dimension to working environments. Colour, texture and density combine with the sound. CLESTRA MediaWall is a living, interactive architectural unit that reacts to contact or can be controlled from a distance. It is a writing surface – it literally can be written on – and can also act as a surface for projecting images, a reading board, or a cinema screen. It is open to the world, to other people, and allows a fluidity of exchange. Because it is an ambient factor and a collaborative tool, CLESTRA MediaWall should be seen as a complete environment, capable of creating a new working atmosphere.
In this respect, CLESTRA MediaWall meets the demands of the contemporary style of working. Collaboration, adjustment, regulation in real time by employees and teams have become the prime concerns of the goods and services economy. An economy marked by the demand for product renewal, and hence dependent on research, innovation and development; it is also marked by an overturning of temporalities. The production and the consumption of goods are becoming increasingly frequently superimposed. Much more than previously, time is an essential dimension in labour efficiency. The temporal equation of individual creativity and group work is resolved more or less satisfactorily with the communication tools present on the market. It is true that communication can take many forms: “embedded” computer applications (on smartphones and computers of all kinds, with or without keyboards) allow communication between people with interpersonal connections, the remote managing of timeframes, schedules, and appointments. However, these tools are not particularly effective in the context of collective real-time work. They make it possible to exchange data, but not really among several people at once, collaborating in the continuity of a joint action. They remain individual – and therefore individualising – tools.
CLESTRA MediaWall resolves these contradictions by offering, in addition to the functions of the individual digital tool, the possibility of creating a work community in real time, with actual or remote presence, for a group of people whose number may easily be changed. With its USB port and a PC that is easily accessible, and customisable, but invisible on the surface, the Wall can turn into a connected computer screen with its own e-mail address or using the company’s network. The shared screen becomes a shared work surface, and at the same time allows working in video conference mode (WebEx or Skype), as well as offering the possibility of sharing files and exchanging information.
CLESTRA MediaWall is a collective vertical work space individuals can link up to quite naturally. The continuity of the surface reflects its functional continuity, offering a range of uses on a single surface. By multiplying the number of actions available – using either remote control, touch contact like on a tablet, or a pen as on a paper-board – CLESTRA MediaWall provides the best possible response to the changing needs of work involving thinking and creation, in keeping with projects and groups, because the time taken to compile something is dependent not only on gathering collaborators together but also on the possibility they have to keep an eye on the state of progress of the collective work, and to share the memory of its various stages. Much more than any other individual support (computer) or collective support (board), CLESTRA MediaWall ensures that this memory is maintained. By doing so it imparts a particular quality to the shared time.
Professor of sociology
University of Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
Associate at the interdisciplinary institute dedicated to the anthropology of the contemporary world (Institut Interdisciplinaire d'Anthropologie du Contemporain)
EHESS - CNRS