Rethinking the office coffee experience

International design and innovation studio CRA-Carlo Ratti Associati and coffee vending machine manufacturer Rhea, along with architect Italo Rota, have unveiled a new coffee experience concept.

The Coffee Landscape is a composite coffee station for offices that transforms coffee making from a solitary activity – in which individuals gravitate away from people and towards the machine – into one where colleagues face each other and interact.

In addition, an expansive platform lets people sit on modular poufs of different heights and underlines the importance of physical space in facilitating social encounters.

The first prototype went on display from June 6th to 12th in BASE Milano as part of the Milan Design Week 2022.

The Coffee Landscape takes shape as offices around the world undergo a pandemic-induced identity shift. While more companies have adopted a hybrid working scheme, the physical workplace remains an integral part of the work experience. A new approach to office design puts additional emphasis on in-person, serendipitous conversations, which are crucial for generating innovative and meaningful ideas.

“How can we rethink the social experience around coffee? This project experiments with new ways to increase what we might call the ‘coffee-machine effect’: bringing people together and letting them interact with each other,” says Carlo Ratti, founding partner of CRA and director of MIT Senseable City Lab.“In a traditional office pantry, making coffee is not a social experience. You attend to the machine and have your back against others. Here, we are trying to propose an alternative.  We believe that our rituals around coffee can play a fundamental role in fostering what 20thCentury American sociologist Mark Granovetter called ‘weak ties’, namely, casual relations that allow new ideas to pollinate.”

The Coffee Landscape is conceived as a central coffee making station with three dispensing outlets surrounded by modular triangular poufs of various heights from eight to 40 centimeters. Their organic arrangement echoes the ebbs and flows of natural terrains. Coffee preparation is turned into an interpersonal experience, distinct from that of traditional vending machines. Those waiting for their drinks to be brewed can see each other eye to eye, and converse with their colleagues sitting or lying down nearby. The seats can be easily reconfigured based on the occasion and office setting, which gives the workers a chance to unleash their creativity and design their own breakout area.

“We are glad to be partnering with a like-minded design studio like CRA, which understands the value of craftsmanship,” Andrea Pozzolini, chief executive of Rhea, said. “Our collaboration started by putting ourselves in the office workers’ shoes and asking ourselves, what would the ideal coffee break be like? With this in mind, we managed to harness Italy’s design legacy, and our 60 years of industrial experience, to realize a sound and forward-looking design.”