MODERNIST DESIGN: KNOLL PAYS HOMAGE TO ITS BAUHAUS HERITAGE

KNOLL CELEBRATES 75 YEARS OF BAUHAUS DESIGN

In 1994, Knoll International celebrated with a special book 75 years of Bauhaus Design and its heritage that still very much alive today at Knoll. The book is also a homage to the Bolted Book of Fortunato Depero’s 1927 masterpiece of Futurist graphic design and bookmaking—Depero Futurista. The choice of Depero’s bolted book as graphic reference for Knoll’s celebration might be related to the common intentions of Depero and Hans Knoll. The production of the ‘Bolted Book’  was one of a kind in the Futurist publications panorama. It mirrored the aspiration that Futurist art could be spread to the most advanced and modern art market of the world: the American market. Hans Knoll started his company in New York with the same mission.

THE KNOLL FAMYLY – A DESIGN DYNASTY

The identity and leadership of a company is built and consolidated on the vision of its founders and the exceptionally talented people who interpret this vision. Hans and Florence Knoll’s intuitions, their ability to interpret the times and anticipate the future, the creative bonds they created with the highest artistic profiles, are the key elements on which the solid foundations of Koll International are based. These values continue to inspire one of the leading proponents of the most remarkable pieces of modernist design furniture the 20th century has seen.

Hans Knoll was the third generation of a Stuttgart-based furniture manufacturing family. His father, Walter Knoll, manufactured avant-guarde furnishings and designs from the Bauhaus School in the family’s factory in Stuttgart. His grand father, Wilhelm Knoll, the founder of the Knoll dynasty, in 1865 opens the doors of his “leather shop” in Stuttgart, Germany. “Knoll leather” becomes the hallmark of quality, and the House of Württemberg names Wilhelm Knoll „supplier to the royal court“.

Hans father, Walter Knoll, among other designs, develops the The “Prodomo“ models which are considered the first modern upholstered furniture in history. He is one of Mies van der Rohes suppliers of furnishings for apartments.  While Walter Knoll’s company’s expansion is forced cease its production during the time of the war, at the age of 25, his son Hans Knoll escapes Hitler’s Germany and emigrates to America, as did the German masters of the Bauhaus, the school that laid the foundations of modernist design.

In the 14 years of its life, the pioneering designers of the school of Bauhaus established the roots of Modernism by pushing the limits of material, form and function in architecture, textile and decorative arts. These principles were not to die with the closure of the school imposed by the Nazi dictatoriship in 1933 but found new grounds on which to continue to develop and consolidate.

Hans Knoll contributed immensely to the survival of the heritage of the Bauhaus school.

In 1938 Hans Knoll founds the H.G. Knoll Furniture Company in a small laboratory on West 72nd street in Manhattan.  Hans Knoll was a far-sighted entrepreneur who sought to integrate, within the context of the times, modernist architecture with modernist furniture.  Continuing his father’s legacy, he integrated within the reality of American modernist architecture the functionalist principles of Bauhaus.

The early years were dedicated to establishing his company as an importer of his family’s modern furniture from Europe but soon it expanded its market and became one of the most innovative companies that would commission and market top quality midcentury modern design. Knoll

What was Hans Knoll’s quest? To provide architects with well-designed modern furniture to complete, in a more organic manner, their modern buildings.

Hans Knoll recruited an abundance of design talents from the Cranbrook Academy in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

He began by signing Jens Risom in 1941, followed by Hans Knoll’s future wife Florence Schust – who studied and made her apprenticeship under the most influencing figures in modern design, Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Walter Gropious, – in 1943 Eero Sarineen , in 1946 Harry Bertoia, Franco Albini,  Isamu Noguchi, Anni Albers, Don Knorr in the 1950’s, in the 1960s join  Sheila Heicks, Warren Platner and Bill Sthephens.  And many others top designers

“Herbert Matter,SWISS GRAPHIC DESIGNER, Hans Knoll, Florence Knoll, and Harry Bertoia, early 1950s. Image courtesy of Knoll, Inc. As reproduced in Bertoia: The Metal Worker. PH. FROM PHAIDON. COM

THE CRIB OF AMERICAN MODERNISM

The story of Knoll is inseparable from the story of the Cranbrook Academy of Art from which it sought the talents that contribute to its enduring success.

The Cranbrook Academy opened to students around the same time the Bauhaus was forced to close under pressure from the Nazi Party. It was completed in 1932 and was directed by Eliel Saarinen, the most renown name in Finnish architecture. It was housed on the grounds of property of George Booth, publisher of the Detroit News. The students were taught architecture, art, nature and science.

CRANBROOK ACADEMY OF ARTS – BLOOMFIELD HILLS – MICHIGAN

The principle that guided the school was to implement the relationship between major arts and applied arts. Their inspiration were European experiences like the Morris’ Arts and Crafts movement and the Wiener Werkstatte in Vienna.  Cranbrook promoted a strong relationship with the furniture industry that translated into research and experimentation of new materials and technologies. The combination of these elements produced true works of art designed for industrial production.

Like the Bauhaus, it was founded to encourage new achievements in 20th-century design and to break down barriers between various design disciplines. Cranbrook academy nurtured some of the greatest design talents that played significant roles in postwar American design, and collectively their influence is enormous. Unlike the Bauhaus school, from the Cranbrook academy didn’t emerge a style that can be associated with the school.

“ ‘Cranbrook is not an art school in the ordinary sense,’ as Saarinen said, but ‘a working place for creative art. The leading idea is to have artists of the highest ability live at Cranbrook and execute their work there…This rich and creative atmosphere will bring to Cranbrook young artists and art students who are eager to develop their talents…How much we can do, we do not know.’ ” (The New York Times Magazine, Paul Goldberger)”

THE WOMAN BEHIND THE BRAND

Shu( Florence Knoll), Hans alter ego, had a unique design sensibility and unique skills deriving from her valuable experience at Saarinen’s Cranbrook Academy and her working experiences under the masters of rationalist and organic design.

HANS AND FLORENCE KNOLL

“The ideas of the Bauhaus, and the designers who pioneered them, greatly influenced Hans and Florence Knoll to bring the beauty, functionality and benefits of Modern design to the way we live and work.”

Florence Knoll redefined American design landscape embracing the Bauhaus philosophy that furniture’s function is to complement architectural space, not compete with it. She translated Mies van der Rohe’s idea of “total design”, incorporating in her Planning Unit Division the ideas of efficiency, spatial planning and comprehensive design that  shaped, and set the standard for, modern office environments in post-war America.

Florence Knoll continued to pursue her late husband Hans Knoll’s vision to bridge the aesthetic and technological principles of the ideas of European modernism to America.

“The Knoll concept was to collaborate with architects and designers, encourage their special talents and merchandise the product with taste and originality to American concerns with offices abroad as well as to foreign companies on their home grounds”. The New York Times, 1957

The history of the timeless pieces reproduced or introduced in the furniture market by Knoll dates back to the early 1940’s:   In 1941 Knoll introduces the 600 Series designed by Jens Risom. In 1948 Knoll manufactured the furniture prototypes of architect and last director of the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, the most celebrated of all was the Barcelona Chair designed for the German Pavilion at the Barcelona intertaional Exposition in 1929, the Brno chair, and MR Series. In 1969, Knoll secured exclusive distribution rights to the Danish designs of Hans Wegner , as well as the iconic plastic chair of Eero Saarinen, the form wire chairs of Harry Bertoia in the 1950’s.

INNOVATION IN TEXTILE DESIGN

“Good design is the sum of a designer’s experience. It results from the ability to analyze and solve the problems by organized thinking and imagination”. F.Knoll

.

The ability of Florence Knoll to pinpoint undeveloped or ignored aspects of interior design enabled her to conquer her own recognized space with her designs. Responding to direct needs encountered while working on interior projects, Florence Knoll designed seating, tables and case goods that are still part of Knoll’s trademark designs.

The lack of suitable fabrics available in the post-war period, induced Florence Knoll, in 1947, Florence Knoll to open the KnollTextiles division.  This intuition that was later on copied by her competitors, proved to be a successful one that enabled the company to manage costs , design and quality.

Among the designers recruited to design textiles for the new division were Anni Albers, Alexander Girard, Sheila Hicks, Toni Prestini . Anni Albers , head of the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus School, was one of the most influential textile designers of the last century and a leader of the modern weaving movement. She collaborated with Knoll Textiles for 30 years.

“From its inception, Knoll’s textile division created an aesthetic apart from mainstream contemporary commercial fabrics. KnollTextiles tended to focus on color and textures that highlited the purity of the lines of Knoll furniture and less on surface ornamentation.” (David Schutte, former general manager of KnollTextiles, in the book ‘KnollTextiles – 60 years of Modern Design’)

“The Bauhaus…was an idea. The fact that it was an idea, I think, is the cause of the enormous influence the Bauhaus had on every progressive school around the globe. You cannot do that with propaganda. Only an idea spreads so far…”. Mies van de Rohe

Knoll is the story of two visionary people who joined professionally and personally to build the company generations of designers, consumers, artists have come to know and respect. This couple reminds me of other iconic pairs whose personalities enriched each other to create beauty, art, and change. In design and architecture Ray and Charles Eames, Aino and Alvar Aalto, in art Alfred Steiglitz and Georgia O’Keeffe, in photography Lee Miller and Man Ray.

The furniture industry can be considered the depositary of the culture of design.

Companies such as Knoll and Herman Miller were founded and succeeded because they responded to a new necessity in architecture: the technological perfection of architecture demanded just as much absolute perfection in the production of furnishings. They still frequently set the trends in the international production of design that resists the ephemeral moments of fashion.

The following are the artworks espescially commissioned by Knoll to commermorate the 75th anniversary of Bauhaus Design included in the book:

 

ABOUT THE BOOK

Foreword: For over 50 years, Knoll has operated according to one of the main tenets of Bauhaus philosophy: that it is possible to produce objects that embody design excellence, technological innovation and affordability.”

This book was printed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Bahuaus,the revolutionary German school of design, It measures 9 7/8” x 6 1/2” x 3/4”, and is bound with a pair of custom machined aluminum nuts and bolts.

The book consists of 102 pages and features beautiful four color printing, outstanding design, with several fold-out pages, one showing a time line of significant KNOLL furniture pieces. It has an introductory essay by architect and critic, PETER BLAKE. When it was published in 1994 it was featured in numerous design publications and won several design awards.

Knoll invited a group of designers and architects who designed for the company to produce a piece of artwork evoking the spirit of the Bauhaus. Among the artists who responded to the invitation were . RICHARD MEIER, ROBERT VENTURI, MASSIMO VIGNELLII, IVAN CHERMAYEFF, ROSS LOVEGROVE, NILS DIFFRIENT, & JHANE BARNES, and others.

TITLEKNOLL CELEBRATES 75 YEARS OF BAUHAUS DESIGN
CURATED AND PUBLISHED BY KNOLL GROUP
YEAR OF PUBLICATION1994
PAGES99 – 72 ARTWORKS
PRICE€ 82,00 + shipping
CONDITIONUSED, GOOD CONDITION, NO MARKINS,

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