Wilkhahn - Company
International success driven by consistency and continuity
Unlike virtually any other manufacturer in the office furniture industry, Wilkhahn stands worldwide for design made in Germany. It offers high-quality office and dynamic conference furniture which are benchmarks for the entire industry. Some 60 years ago, the company made better utility value, long-lasting design and durability its goals. Milestones like classic office chair FS-Line (1980), Confair folding conference table (1994), office chair Modus (1994) or skid-base chair Aline (2004) have shaped the way offices have evolved. The latest examples of pioneering innovations are the multi-purpose chair Chassis, the conference range Graph, or three-dimensional ON and IN which leading experts currently consider the world’s best office chairs.
Wilkhahn also sets new standards in terms of its socio-ecological approach. As winner of the German Environmental Prize, the company has worked with architects Frei Otto and Thomas Herzog and has actively been practising environmental responsibility for over 20 years. In addition to a number of international accolades, office chair ON has also received the Federal Ecodesign Award.
ArchitectureAn alarming number of people live and work in buildings to which they do not relate at all. How can harmonious, user-friendly products be made in an alienated, inhuman environment? A factory building can be more that merely a machine covered in corrugated iron. We were able to retain two excellent architects for our corporate architecture in the form of Frei Otto and Thomas Herzog.
Production halls by Thomas Herzog
"We must build in harmony with nature - not against it" Thomas Herzog A covered area of 8,000 sq m - yet the production halls by Thomas Herzog still project a feeling of complete visual lightness. Three glazed hall sections with a suspended construction are sandwiched between the four "high-rise trestles"; the criss-cross steel anchor bars make the suspended structure clearly visible from the outside.
In spite of its vast size, the building has a filigree appearance and ecological design down to the very last detail: with a special glazed façade for heat insulation, a largely natural ventilation system, a solar energy plant and roofs covered with plants serving as climatic and rainwater buffers set standards for environmentally conscious construction.
Pavillons by Frei Otto
As the architect who designed the Olympic Park in Munich, Frei Otto even became known beyond expert circles. He designed the building to house the sewing and upholstery shops when Wilkhahn planned to extend its production area in 1987.
Instead of a traditional factory building the result was 4 pavilions with a light, tent-roof construction comprising suspended wooden beams. The shapes, derived from organic structures, blend harmoniously with the landscape. The interior is friendly and bright, and provides an enviable, productive working atmosphere. These pavilions, which have received numerous awards, are regarded throughout the world as models of excellence of people-oriented industrial architecture.
The 1950s and 60s were the time of "architects' chairs" at Wilkhahn. Names such as Jupp Ernst, Roland Rainer, Hans Bellmann, Walter Papst, Herbert Hirche and Georg Leowald stood for the company's new, design-oriented approach that was based on the principles of the Deutscher Werkbund, Bauhaus and the HfG Ulm (Academy of Design). It was a matter of course that Leowald and Hirche were also commissioned with the upcoming building tasks of the dynamically growing company. The administration building, built by Herbert Hirche in 1960, is a model of excellence. It was designed with a visible concrete supporting structure with a nogged clinker brick facade
History of Wilkhahn
How it all started
Friedrich Hahne and Christian Wilkening founded a chair-making factory in Eimbeckhausen near Hanover. The name of the two founders was later used to create the company name of Wilk-hahn. High-quality, solid beech chairs were made from wood from nearby forests. The manufacturing plant did not differ greatly from the other 100 or so small and medium-sized chair manufacturers in the area.
Dawn of a new era
Business ran well, but the two were not satisfied with just that. They looked for new design paths and took up contact with Walter Heyn, the director of Deutsche Werkstätten, and with designers such as Georg Leowald and Herbert Hirche whose work was influenced by the Bauhaus movement and the Werkbund. At that time no one sensed that their fascination with experimentation would later pay off. The secret of the advance from a craft business to a company with international operations was simple: success through design.
At school with Bauhaus
In the 1950s the company succeeded in retaining excellent designers such as Herbert Hirche, Georg Leowald, Roland Rainer, Jupp Ernst and Helmut Lohmeier. Wilkhahn became a pioneer of German industrial design, experimented with new materials and evolved its own distinct design language. This resulted in purist furniture, the form of which was developed in strict adherence to function. Some of them were to go down in design history.
Truly revolutionary products were developed in close collaboration with the Ulmer Hochschule für Gestaltung (Ulm Academy of Design). The avant-gardists of industrial design plumbed the depths of the political dimensions of design. Consumerism and the "ad libitum" attitude to design was set against the social responsibility of designers and the "moral of things". Wilkhahn adopted one of the maxims from the founding manifesto of the Ulm designers: "Our aim is to develop sustainable products, to increase their utility value and to reduce waste."
New impetus by design
The 1970s were characterized by professionalism, especially in terms of design management. The 232 office chair range by Wilhelm Ritz became the basis of success in the office chair segment. This design classic with the two-section seat shell and distinctive swivel joint – a design icon that is still in great demand today – took administrations and cashier workplaces, especially in financial institutions and insurance offices, by storm at a time when such businesses were keen on adopting a modern corporate image. And Wilkhahn became the talk of the town when it introduced profit-sharing for employees in line with the guiding principle of “social justice”.
Sitting without a driver's licence
Klaus Frank and Werner Sauer developed a new office swivel chair following intensive ergonomic studies and series of tests. The FS-Line marked the consistent implementation of the principle of dynamic sitting long before its great significance had come to be realized. Instead of complicated "sitting machines" with an array of levers, dials and adjustment knobs, there was now a chair with a high degree of flexibility in terms of adjustment to individual posture, and which even encouraged movement. More than 2 million of these chairs have been sold to date and still feature in our current product portfolio.
Wilkhahn did justice to its trailblazing status in the environmental field too: the production halls designed by Thomas Herzog, completed in 1993, are regarded throughout the world as a model of excellence of both aesthetic and environmentally compatible building construction. In 1995 the "Picto" swivel chair - made from pure, coded and completely dismountable individual components - was the first office chair in the world to be awarded the environmental label of the Dutch Milieukeur Foundation.
Work practices in the process of change
The Internet, start up, teamwork, self-organization, a learning society, conference techniques: these are typical buzz words of a work environment which entered a revolutionary phase of movement and since then has not stood still. Product development at Wilkhahn evolves out of an extensive analysis of modern forms of work and communication. Confair and Conrack are only two of the furnishing ranges, which evolved as a result of such an analysis, which allow scope for creativity and change, for thinking, working and living, for groups and individuals.
The Federal Award for Design Leadership was presented to Fritz Hahne. This award by the German Design Council is intended to honour those who have rendered great service with regard to the role of design in Germany. The Chairman of the Jury, Dr. h. c. Dieter Rams, remarked: "Fritz Hahne's special achievement lies in the fact that he continually showed that good product design, top quality, social responsibility and ecological awareness can also be realized in an economically successful company."
Humankind - nature - technology
This is the theme employed by EXPO 2000 to present scenarios depicting how the future might be on the threshold to the new millennium. Our contribution: "The future of work in the field between humankind, nature, technology and the market", a special Expo exhibition in collaboration with the DGB (German Trade Union Federation), the AOK (Health Insurance Fund), the Deutsche Arbeitsschutz Ausstellung (German Safety at Work Exhibition) and the Institut für Arbeit- und Sozialhygiene (Institute for Occupational and Social Hygiene).
International bases and corporate responsibility
The Wilkhahn Asia Pacific subsidiary, founded in 1999, develops into a successful base for expanding markets in Australia and Asia. At the same time, the concept of a holistic approach to responsibility is also systemised. After Wilkhahn became one of the first medium-sized enterprises in Germany to publish a sustainability report for EXPO 2000, it is the first company in Lower Saxony to achieve certification based on the European Management and Audit Scheme 2 (EMAS 2)
The 100-year anniversary of the company’s foundation is all about the future. In addition to the big party, there’s also a congress where ground-breaking topics such as innovation, ecology and social responsibility are discussed. Joining the Global Compact emphasises the company’s wish to take responsibility on the international stage too. For its “Conference. Excellence” submission, the company wins a prize as one of the “365 places in the land of ideas”. In publishing its “Planning Guide for Conference and Communication Environments” Wilkhahn highlights its expertise with conferences to the public
ON and Trimension – the new dimension of healthy dynamic sitting
After a five-year research and development phase in conjunction with the German Sport University Cologne and others, Wilkhahn launches the ON office-chair range. At the core of the chair lies a patented worldwide innovation called Trimension which Wilkhahn harnesses to teach seating to walk. The added value of this technology is that the body intuitively employs a more varied and frequent range of motion than it does on conventional office chairs. At the same time the body stays relaxed in any position and maintains its centre of gravity. The office chair ON with Trimension quickly develops into the new benchmark for healthy dynamic sitting.
Energy sourced from renewables
The company started to use alternative sources of energy back in 1992 with the first photovoltaic roof on the new factory facilities. A combined heat and power plant operated with vegetable oil is added in 2008. Solar power is now also used and connection to the district heating grid from a neighbouring biogas plant follows. As a result, over 50 per cent of total energy requirements are covered by sustainable sources. The German Federal Ecodesign Award is presented for office chair ON and underscores the company’s ecological approach.
Dynamic Office – Wilkhahn makes offices more physically active places
“Gold Award” at NeoCon 2015 – top marks for Wilkhahn’s new office chair IN at North America’s leading contract furniture show.
NeoCon in Chicago seems to guarantee success for German furniture manufacturer Wilkhahn. When it premiered five years ago, office chair ON garnered the “Best of Competition” accolade. 2015, office chair IN was presented for the first time and won the “Gold Award” in the “Seating: Ergonomic Desk/Task” category.
Environment and staff leadershipSee things in perspective. Be attentive. Keep an inquiring mind. We have never believed in the idea of pure form: whoever designs furniture and interiors, does, in fact, design his or her environment and human relations. Aesthetics have always had an ethical dimension for us. For years we have consistently pursued new paths in design; for years we have been practising fair, responsible partnership. With nature, with our staff and with the technology which we employ.
The Federal Ecodesign Award was initiated by the Federal Ministry for the Environment and the Federal Environment Agency. The accolade pays tribute to products and services that fulfil aesthetic and ecological quality requirements in equal measure and therefore demonstrate a particularly high level of innovation. The 2012 prize-winners and nominees are now displayed in a touring exhibition. ON office chair is also included and impressed the prominent panel of judges in several respects.
„In case of doubt, the ecological aspect has priority over quick profit.“ Mission Statement of the Administrative Board,1989
In 1992 we developed Picto, the first completely recyclable office swivel chair, and proved innovative products can be designed and produced ecologically. Environmental responsibility does, after all, start with product design. As a proactive thinker, we demonstrate our innovative strength in ecological matters too: with environmentally favourable product processes, in the utilization of environmentally compatible materials, with a sophisticated value-added packaging system, in waste disposal or in the utilization of low-solvent lacquer.
„No orders without explanations“
This phrase of Fritz Hahne's became the guideline for internal communication very early on. Decisions at Wilkhahn must always be legitimized by means of arguments and not hierarchies. Such a corporate culture produces strong, self-confident individuals who can identity with their work and who are totally committed.