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Maja Ganszyniec - Quiet Revolutionist
Maja Ganszyniec - Quiet Revolutionist

For her, the allure of design lies in navigating uncharted waters, in spaces and concepts yet to be explored. Yet, paradoxically, she finds the most profound challenges in domains where she is already known as an expert.

This intriguing dichotomy shapes our conversation about Maja Ganszyniec's latest endeavor with Abstracta, a renowned soundscape Scandinavian brand. It’s here, amidst the comforting familiarity of her Warsaw home, that Maja invites us to delve deeper into her design philosophy, offering an intimate glimpse into the intricacies of her creative process.

Our meeting is timely, occurring just months after the celebration of a decade since the inception of her studio. As we converse, Maja's laughter is light, tinged with self-deprecation. She jests about being 'boring', having perhaps already revealed her insights in past dialogues with the local press. Yet, to the discerning eye, Ganszyniec is far from mundane. She is a legend, a steadfast beacon in the Polish design world. 

Her journey, which began 15 years ago upon her return from London’s Royal College of Art, was set against a backdrop not so vibrant in diversity. The post-communist era of Polish design was then a canvas largely untouched by female hands, predominantly shaped by male influences. It was a time when the intricate dance between designers, brands, and manufacturers was evolving, and public consciousness about the integral role of design in everyday life was just beginning to stir.

Maja Ganszyniec invites us into her personal space, offering a glimpse into the environment that shapes her creative narrative.

In Maja's presence, there is an aura of serene confidence. Her voice carries a gentleness, a reflection of the common belief that 'softness opens doors that force cannot move.' This philosophy is not just a mantra but a lived experience, evident in the space she occupies. Her home, a Le Corbusier-inspired apartment in Warsaw's Mokotów district, designed by Juliusz Żórawski, is more than a dwelling; it's a unique architectural mastery built in 1935.

Maja's abode showcases a spectrum of her works, each piece a fragment of her design story. Together, they craft a serene, cohesive space. In the forefront, her NURT tables stand as understated anchors of her home's narrative.

Within these walls, Maja's world is a microcosm of her design journey. Her multiple collaborations span from giants like IKEA, a large collection of Polish brands to her own NURT, a local endeavor born from a desire to create organically and meaningfully. Her commitment to sustainable, circular production is not just a design principle but a response to the global necessity for responsible creation. Her Normo office chair, a candidate for the Dezeen awards, exemplifies this ethos with its entirely recyclable design.

The staircase rises as a minimalist monolith, its clean lines and solid presence guiding visitors to the mezzanine with understated elegance.
The mezzanine doubles as a home office, neatly lined with an array of books. It's a practical, lived-in space for work and reading.

A stone's throw from her apartment lies Maja Ganszyniec's studio where she and her long-term collaborators form more than just a team – they are akin to a family. In this intimate space, relationships and ideas simmer together, much like the dishes in what Maja fondly calls the most important room: the kitchen. Curious, I ask if she harbors ambitions to expand this close-knit circle. Maja's response is reflective of her philosophy, "I have no desire or ambition to grow. It allows me to be personally involved in every project." In her role as the creative director, she navigates the vast ocean of strategic approaches, particularly the nuanced phase of pre-design as well as the detailed craftsmanship involved in prototyping. Very often her approach to design is marked by a unique kind of openness – what she describes as the "blessing of a child's naivety." This mindset empowers her to venture into unexplored territories, to bring into being what has not been seen before, weaving paradox into the fabric of novel solutions.

As our conversation delves into the intricacies of Polish and Scandinavian design, the air becomes electric with enthusiasm. Our cheeks flush with excitement as we explore the weaving of cultural threads.

Zuza: Considering our common ground – Poland's belonging to the Baltic region, our shared tree species, thriving manufacturing, and untamed nature – it seems that the foundation for Polish design is similar to that of Scandinavian countries. We have remarkable designs in the Polish National Museum, comparable to those in Sweden, Denmark or Norway. However, do you feel that our local recognition and appreciation for the unique values of Polish design is something we've had to learn and nurture over time?

Maja: Indeed, the contrast is significant. We, as a generation, are reconnecting with threads of creativity and vision that were once severed by history's tumultuous turns. The shadow of communism and the subsequent embrace of economic freedom in the 90s have led us to a renaissance of sorts. We're now unearthing treasures from our archives, contemplating what could have been if these designs had been brought to market, industrialized. It makes one ponder the potential paths of the Polish design scene. 

There is an undeniable commonality at the base of Polish and Scandinavian design – a shared foundation. This synergy is partly why my collaboration with Abstracta feels so instinctive. In our studio, the language of design we converse in transcends mere words; it's a dialogue rooted in culture, in shared sensibilities and understandings. Design, after all, is deeply embedded in cultural context. It's this shared cultural language that smooths the path, making our collaborative process flow more organically.

The book collection, expanding gradually over the years, includes select vintage gems from the 80s and 90s nestled among the shelves.

Could you share the story behind your collaboration with Abstracta?

My engagement with Abstracta began quite serendipitously. I was in London, with some time to spare, and I happened upon their space. It wasn’t a planned meeting; our paths crossed unexpectedly. As we started talking about my daily work, a spontaneous question arose: why not try to collaborate? That's how our dialogue began, opening a door to new possibilities.

"You see, there are designers who approach with a ready-made proposal, presenting it as a take-it-or-leave-it deal. While I respect that approach, it's not one I adopt".

I prefer to design through a close dialogue with the company. It’s enriching when there's an opportunity to sit down, to discuss where the company is heading, its plans and ambitions, and align them with my own creative needs. From these conversations, we shape a brief, a sort of creative nucleus, from where our ideas and solutions spring.

During our discussions, the concept of soft seating surfaced. It was an expansion into new territory for Abstracta, a company primarily known for its acoustic products, typically associated with wall panels and spatial dividers. This foray into soft seating was a step into a somewhat unexplored domain for them...

This seems like a somewhat limited range of products.

Initially, this category was indeed quite technical and niche-focused. The topic of acoustics in office spaces emerged as these spaces themselves evolved. There was this trend towards open-plan offices, which then revealed themselves to be somewhat of an acoustic nightmare.

So, it's clear that not everyone is suited for working in such open environments...

Precisely. There's been an increasing dialogue about employee wellbeing. Workers are no longer seen as mere cogs in a machine but as individuals whose comfort directly impacts their productivity. This shift in perspective has elevated the importance of acoustics in office design. It's no longer a niche concern but a fundamental aspect of interior design. We're seeing a growing range of products where acoustics play a vital role, and this field is continuously expanding and adapting.

So in essence, every element in a space can impact the sound, either enhancing or diminishing it?

Exactly. It's an often overlooked detail. For instance, a high, shaggy carpet or heavy curtains can be superb for acoustics. Even the clothes we wear, it's akin to considering thermal energy in a space, where each person contributes as a radiator at 36.6 degrees Celsius. My view of acoustics has evolved; it's not just a technical aspect but an integral part of the environment. It's about creating a soundscape, and naturally, a brand focused on this should think beyond the conventional scope of acoustic products.

As Maja speaks, she begins to unravel her 3d models and printed presentation, interspersed with various fabric samples destined for her final designs. They lay scattered in an artfully controlled chaos across her large table, which doubles as her home office desk.

The Akunok collection began as an exploration of tectonic detail, where two cornered surfaces converge to scatter waves, sparking the journey to extend this concept into a line of soft seating.

So, you're delving into the world of sofas.

Yes, that's correct. Up to this point, Abstracta primarily offered acoustic furniture like meeting points. However, our discussions and exploration began with a focus on enhancing comfort. We started exploring how they could expand into broader categories that allow us to incorporate acoustics into other elements found in office spaces. When we consider the transformations in office furniture, we see that soft seating has taken the forefront. Our office environments are constantly evolving. The traditional setup of a desk and office chair is giving way to seating areas, with approximately 30% of desks being discarded. After the pandemic, everyone became accustomed to comfort, working from home in sweatpants and pajamas. So, prioritizing softness, comfort, and ease has become paramount. Additionally, a portion of the workforce continues to operate in a hybrid system...

When employees return to the office, they desire an environment that evokes the comfort and familiarity of home.

That's precisely the shift we've witnessed in office spaces over the past few years, particularly after the pandemic. Offices have taken on a more domestic character, and this transformation is happening everywhere. Domestication is closely linked to these changes. The allocation of space within offices is shifting, with fewer people sitting rigidly at desks in front of monitors. Instead, there's an emphasis on flexibility, with more employees using laptops and engaging in informal meetings. The office now serves a socialization function for those who also work from home. This shift towards a softer, more comfortable style has been the most significant change in office design. People come in, grab a coffee, have conversations, or attend meetings. But they also have two-hour breaks between those meetings, and the atmosphere and comfort during those times matter greatly. High-sided sofas have now become the standard. Fifteen years ago, such a working style in average offices would have been unimaginable...

Maja showcases the full spectrum of elements and potential configurations within the Akunok collection, illuminating the versatility and innovative spirit of her designs.

When I consider that fifteen years ago, if a boss saw an employee sitting on a high-sided sofa, sipping coffee, it would have seemed like the end...


Yes, it was quite unimaginable back then. A lot has indeed changed. The work culture has evolved, the generations in the workforce have shifted, and even the mindset has transformed. Remote work has become commonplace among people of the same age. That's why high-sided sofas are now a new standard in soft seating. These sofas with high sides have also emerged due to the acoustic challenges of open workspaces.

It's like an extension of a screen. Imagine having a screen that's covered in sound-absorbing materials. And right next to it, you have a low sofa or a low armchair. These two elements naturally merged. So, for me, this combination that may have seemed illogical a decade ago no longer appears strange at all.

So, everything starts to blend together at this point.

That's right. We aimed to create a sofa that would truly stand out among acoustic sofas, and that's how our Akunok series was born.

You see, there are sofas with high backs, but often, the sides remain partially open. You can still see your surroundings and feel somewhat exposed while having a bit of privacy. These kinds of sofas provide partial acoustic benefits because only the back provides some sound absorption. But if you don't have deep sides that offer substantial protection, the acoustic benefits are limited.

So, when we set out to design this sofa, our primary goal was to create something that offers real privacy, almost like being in a room.

If you look at the side panels of the sofa, you'll notice that they extend further than the seat, ensuring a deep sense of enclosure. What's remarkable is that we've achieved noticeable sound reduction when you sit on the sofa. You sit down, and there is this “wow” - you can literally feel the difference. While certificates will help us document the acoustic performance, the comfort and experience of sitting on this sofa speak for themselves. The entire collection is designed to allow for various compositions, providing flexibility and versatility.

The selection of new fabrics was crafted to integrate seamlessly with the Abstracta color palette, showcasing a harmonious blend of texture and hue.

Is this your first venture into the realm of acoustics, your inaugural acoustic project?

I've had some interest in acoustics, so I've previously worked on acoustic products and have an understanding of how sound behaves. I know that sound is both absorbed and reflected by soft surfaces. Moreover, in complex spatial situations, sound waves can break and scatter. I wanted to incorporate elements into this piece of furniture that would also contribute to managing sound. Ultimately, I envisioned creating a piece that showcases these tectonics and serves as a highly architectural detail...

It's not just about the experience for the user inside; it's also about how this piece of furniture interacts with the surrounding space. I've always viewed them as more than just functional objects; with these details they have an architectural dimension…

There's a simplicity in them, each element stands on its own without pretense.

That simplicity also translates into ease of assembly; each cover can be easily disassembled. We have this visual contrast, with traditional rigid exteriors that also serve acoustic function, while the interior is all about comfort, including a lumbar cushion.

Maja's ongoing exploration led to the addition of screens that echo the characteristic construction of the sofas, merging into a cohesive ensemble that enhances the collection's unity.

Probably my favorite element. I know it might seem small, but when you think about your spine, it's a total game-changer...

Absolutely! (laughs) You see, I'm quite petite, and I approach the world of office furniture from a different perspective and a different era. I once tried to understand why home furniture is typically 20% smaller than office furniture. When you look at some movies or series from the 80s and 90s, where women in offices were mainly secretaries, where the main character, the "girl with wet hair on her head," rushes through New York to the office in Nike sneakers, then arrives at the office, takes out heels from the drawer, and puts them on... I think, wow - that's no longer the case. Even when women were in those offices, they were in heels.

I hope such a situation is now a thing of the past.

It paradoxically reflects the historical imbalance of women in offices, who influenced weight choices and furniture design. But now we embrace inclusivity, including the diversity of body sizes. We all differ in height and size, and a sofa that's comfortable for a tall person might be uncomfortable for a shorter one, and vice versa. This cushion adjusts the seat depth. If someone is very tall, they can remove it and sit deeper. Then I can easily adjust it for myself. It's a personal crusade of mine that I find amusing in various situations because I'm often the one advocating for shorter individuals. There's a tendency to cater to the tallest, but I want to focus on the smallest.

What lies ahead for this system?

I sincerely hope it will continue to evolve. Currently, we have these elements that strongly emphasize acoustics. So, beginning with the sofa, we've developed an entire alphabet of complementary pieces—mainly screens and side tables that share the same visual language and attention to detail. When you look at Akunok collection of products, you can sense that they belong to the same family —

The complete lineup of the Akunok collection, showcasing the diverse range of products unified by a singular design.

Maja Ganszyniec hails from the small town in Silesia, and her design ethos is profoundly influenced by her love and respect for nature. This reverence for the natural world is constantly present in her works, guiding her in creating products that are not just aesthetically pleasing but sustainably crafted and conducive to wellbeing, whether in homes, offices, or other settings.

Maja's academic journey is as impressive as her professional one, with studies in Interior Architecture at the Krakow Academy of Fine Arts, Design at the Polytechnic University of Milan, and Product Design at the Royal College of Art in London. Since 2013, she has spearheaded a range of comprehensive design projects through her own Maja Ganszyniec Studio.

The Akunok collection, designed for Abstracta, showcases Maja's commitment to this philosophy. This collection represents a bold fusion of the brand's dedication to high-quality acoustic solutions and Maja Ganszyniec Studio's skill in crafting objects that are simply balanced, beautiful, and crafted in respect with nature.

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Thisispaper Magazine
A book of stories about thinkers and makers.
In this publication we have collected stories from the designers and artists that inspire us with their creativity and skill. Whether working in fashion, design, photography or architecture, they share the commitment to process and have a strong, personal voice.

How do you create an inspiring workplace? How does the space we work in influence our health? Can the workspace boost your creativity and well-being? To answer these questions we reached out to experts in the field.
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