During an interview for my 2010 book Matter in the Floating World, Japanese architect Kazuyo Sejima and I discussed the concept of atmosphere. This theme is pervasive throughout the work of Tokyo-based SANAA, her firm with Ryue Nishizawa. The office, which was awarded the 2010 Pritzker Architecture Prize, routinely designs simple, light-filled spaces that reduce visual noise and clutter to a minimum. In the hands of other architects, this strategy could easily result in emptiness or boredom. However, atmosphere—or funiki in Japanese—means more to SANAA than simply a reduction of physical elements.

“On one hand, a space should be independent, but on another, it should have a good relationship to its inhabitants,” Sejima said during our conversation. “A space should have the capacity to communicate with people. One could design a space with all white walls, but there must be a balance.” This balance, as I interpret it, relates to how the design of a space expresses clues about its use. With just a limited material palette, SANAA’s architecture anticipates the presence of human occupants and their needs.

This particular concept of atmosphere is apparent in the Cloud Table (left) by Studio Maks, a Rotterdam, Netherlands–based firm founded by Marieke Kums, a protégé of Sejima and Nishizawa. Developed for this year’s Milan Design Week, the table encapsulates the geometric, material, and functional attributes of SANAA’s atmosphere concept. Configured as a single large, undulating surface supported by a forest of thin legs, the whimsical piece immediately invites user engagement. For additional functionality, the table also has discrete wireless charging pads and Wi-Fi signal boosters for mobile devices.

The Cloud Table offers an intriguing platform for today’s creative professional, for whom work has become more itinerant, casual, and collaborative. In a single, serpentine gesture, the table provides an expansive perimeter that  accommodates a variety of occupant configurations to meet the needs of individuals and small and large groups. 

As in SANAA’s designs, the Cloud Table and the minimalist room it is designed to occupy are not conducive for material clutter. However, the project is also much more inviting than a collection of conventional, nondescript conference tables. The elemental piece demonstrates that minimalism need not be sterile or dysfunctional. Compared with the status quo, the Cloud Table proves to be a much more engaging furniture piece and imparts a more human-centered atmosphere.

Blaine Brownell, AIA, is a regularly featured columnist whose stories appear on this website each week. His views and conclusions are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.