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Practice : Fall 2008
newswoRThy ] floRenCe knoll: Defining MoDeRn We weren’t making history, we were making design.” — Florence Knoll A retrospective of Florence Knoll ’s work— a driving force behind Knoll—wa s recently exhibited in the BAC’s McCormick galler y and begs to differ from the designer’s claim. Originally exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the e x hibit presented ten pieces of f urn- iture designed by Florence Knoll. As an architect, interior space planner, and furniture designer, Florenc e Knoll ha s had a profound influence on post w ar design. Her reductive aesthetic, w hich incorpo- rates light, open spaces furnished w ith elegant woven fabrics, furniture grouped for informal c onversation, and brightly colored wall panels, clearly resonates in the c ompany’s spirit today. Florenc e attended Kingswood School at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where she studied under Eliel Saarinen. She gradu ated in 1934 and then briefly worked with leaders of the B auhau s movement, including Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. During World War I, American design studio work was infused with the German concept of stylistic unity; a unity that was a by-product of art and technics. Defining Modern opened last sea son at universities that specialize in architecture and interior design, giving students an opportunity to learn about Knoll ’s rich histor y. The BAC exhibition w as accompa- nied by a presentation by Benjamin Pardo Senior V.P. of Design, K noll, Inc., and was attended by practitio- ners and students. Pardo discussed Florenc e’s pioneering contributions to the development of American c orporate design. Having the exhibition for view within an educational institution spoke directly to the intertwining of ideas between both schools of thought—Cranbrook and Bauhaus. The context of Defining Modern reemphasized the influenc e of design education on Florenc e’s succe ss. “By bringing this exhibition to the BAC, we’re putting Knoll right back where it all started,” said Dave Harrison, Head of the School of Interior Design. In 1938, German-born Hans G. Knoll founded his furniture company in New York. In 1943, Florenc e convinced Hans she c ou ld help bring in business to his company even in America’s wartime economy by expanding into interior design by working with architects. With her architec- tural background and design flair, she succeeded. They married in 1946, she became a full business partner, and together they founded Knoll Associates. “There are these two people with different cultural backgrounds and a common love for clean, simple design that expressed itself through lines and materiality,” reflected Harrison. “Lines and materials were it and we had never seen anything like it before. “And it was more than a marriage bet ween two people. It was a marriage of contacts.” Florence’s legacy is one of a coming together of intellects driven by a love of design; a dramatic, influential fusion of American and German cultural and artistic values that transformed design during a war-torn era, and continues to awe and inspire in the 21st century. Florence Knoll: Defining Modern wa s produced in partnership with Knoll and Office Resourc es. Knoll is rec ognized internation- a l ly for creating workplace furnishings that inspire, evolve and endure. Commitment to innova- tion and modern design has yielded a comprehensi ve portfolio of offic e s ystems, seating, files and storage, tables and desk s, wood ca segood s, textiles and accessories. Office Resources is the largest distributor of Knoll office furniture in New England, headquartered in Boston with showrooms and sales offic es in Hartford, CT, Worce ster, MA and Manchester, NH. The mission at Office Resourc es is to provide the be st possible ser vice to execute projects succ essfully and on budget and to work with the needs of individual companies to a ssemble a custom designed project team. florence knoll: Defining Modern Schools of thought brought Knoll to life in the mid-t wentieth centur y. Decades later, an exhibition at the BAC brings its legacy back to its roots. “ PRaCTiCe 28