British architect David Adjaye makes his debut in furniture design today, launching a collection of seating and tables for the product company Knoll. The Washington Collection consists of playful cantilevered chairs (in colorful nylon or latticed aluminum) as well as a formidable bronze coffee table—an ottoman, club chair, and side table will be introduced in 2014.
The collection—in addition to celebrating Adjaye's design for the Smithsonian’s new Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC—celebrates 75 years of innovative furniture from Knoll. Indeed, Knoll has a long history of collaborating with architects, from Eero Saarinen and Mies van der Rohe to Frank Gehry and Maya Lin. Here, a look at some of the amazing modernist (and postmodernist!) masterpieces these fruitful collaborations have wrought.
David Adjaye with his Washington Collection for Knoll
Eero Saarinen and Florence Knoll studying the Tulip base in 1957
Eero Saarinen met Florence Knoll when the two were students at Cranbrook Academy of Art, and the two developed an almost brother-and-sister-type relationship. When Florence joined Knoll in the 1940s, she immediately brought Saarinen on board as a designer, and the two would collaborate on such iconic designs as the Grasshopper, Tulip, and Womb chairs.
Pedestal Collection, designed 1953-58. Manufactured 1958-present
Knoll introduced Saarinen's Pedestal Collection (above) to reduce the visual noise created by typical four legged chairs—or, as the architect put it, a system to “clear up the slum of legs.”
Knoll began producing the Bauhaus-trained Breuer's designs—including his classic Wassily Chair, inspired by the frame of a bicycle and the constructivist theories of the De Stjil movement—when the company acquired Gavina SpA in 1968.
Breuer Collection including the Cesca Chair (1928), Laccio Tables (ca. 1925) and Wassily Chair (ca. 1925)
Mies van der Rohe
Mies van der Rohe Collection, including MR chair, chaise, lounge, table, and tubular Brno chair
Mies, Florence Knoll's mentor and friend, granted Knoll the exclusive rights to manufacture his furniture, starting with his famous Barcelona Collection (1929) in 1948 and branching out to include the Brno Chair (1929) among others.
Barcelona Chair, designed 1929. Manufactured by Knoll 1948-present.
Robert Venturi pictured with his Knoll collection of chairs, 1984.
A "postmodernist's timeline of the history of chairs," Robert Venturi's 1984 Knoll collection mashed up Chippendale, Queen Anne, Empire, Hepplewhite, Sheraton, Biedermeier, Gothic Revival, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco styes into a whimsical set of seating. Venturi described his chairs as combining “modern technology and historic symbolism, traditional symbolism and modern symbolism, comfort and elegance, function and wit, high purpose and fun.”
Venturi chair, designed 1979-83. Manufactured 1984-1990.
Richard Meier collection, designed 1982. Manufactured 1982-1992
Influenced by 20th century master Frank Lloyd Wright and Charles Rennie Mackintosh, while incorporating Meier's own design philosophy, the Richard Meier collection was based on a chair the architect had originally designed for the Guggenheim reading room.
Gehry's bentwood furniture collection, designed in 1990. Introduced in 1992.
Frank Gehry's ingenious, crafty, and lightweight 1992 collection was inspired by the wooden bushel basket. He explained in an interview to Architectural Record at the time that bentwood furniture relied on a heavy main structure and an intermediary structure for seating. "The difference in my chairs is that structure and the seat are formed of the same incredible lightweight slender wood strops which serve both functions," he said. "The material forms a single and continuous idea. What makes this all work and gives it extraordinary strength is the interwoven, basket-like character of the design.”
Commissioned for Knoll's 60th anniversary, Maya Lin's "stone" chairs and tables reflect the architect's simple and elegant aesthetic, which draws equally from Japanese gardens, American Indian earthen mounds, and her parents. Lin explained: “At the heart of this furniture collection for Knoll is my love for the land, which can be traced back to my childhood in the rolling hills of southeastern Ohio. It goes back to a childhood fascination we all have — that moment when you discover that the earth is round…and you walk around trying to see that curve.”
The Maya Lin Stone Collection, available in adult, child, and coffee table sizes.
2x4 (Knoll Textiles)
In 2004, young architecture firm 2x4 created the Chatter Collection of wall coverings for KnollTextiles, featuring Pause (above).
Part of Knoll's 75th anniversary celebration, the company approached Rem Koolhaas about designing a line of furniture. "Tools for Life," a funky collection of modular stackable coffee tables, mod-ish swivel chairs, and more, debuted at Milan Design Week earlier this year.
Washington Skin and Washington Skeleton chairs by David Adjaye. Photo: Josh McHugh
The David Adjaye Washington Collection for Knoll is currently available online at knoll.com and at the Knoll's New York City Home Design Shop. The Collection will be on view at the NYC shop, along with an exhibition of Adjaye's architectural work through October 31.
Washington Corona bronze coffee table. Photo: Ilan Rubin