It's no wonder that Ghana-born, London-based architect David Adjaye routinely tops lists of favorite living architects and is one of the most sought after contemporary practitioners. His sensibility is subtle, expressing geometry and materials in a sculptural approach that's sensitive to context. His diverse portfolio includes public projects, cultural institutions (his firm, Adjaye Associates, was tapped to design the forthcoming National Museum of African American History and Culture), master plans, and residences (his Sunken House appeared in a 2008 issue of Dwell). Adjaye's latest project is a collection of furniture for Knoll. We sent a few questions his way to learn more. Read the interview in the slideshow that follows and catch an exhibition of the new furniture line along with Adjaye's architectural projects at Knoll's New York home design shop at 1330 Avenue of the Americas October 2 through 31, Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.
Dwell: Your collection's release coincides with Knoll's 75th anniversary. What was it like to collaborate with a company that has such a long—and revered—history?Adjaye: It has been a huge learning curve. It was like a testing ground for ideas that interest me and an opportunity to engage in a production process with Knoll’s technical team. While I have previously designed objects—I have never worked on production furniture. It is very different. Furniture can be everywhere and used by everyone, unthinkingly in their daily lives—it is a background. There is something very powerful and very rewarding about that.
Photo by Dorothy Hong
How did you scale your design perspective down into furniture?It wasn’t so much a ‘scaling down’. Rather than making a product, it was an opportunity to express my position in terms of materials, silhouettes and forms.
Were there any particular creative challenges or opportunities creating a contemporary line for a company that's widely known for "classics" of modern furniture?Even the ‘classics’ are true to their own time—this is what gives them an enduring quality and an integrity that withstands fashion. I simply tried to respond honestly to a moment in time and by doing this, I hope the chairs will have a relevance well into the future. This is my interpretation of ‘contemporary.’
Can you tell us about the materials you used in the Washington chairs? How did the aluminum and reinforced nylon allow you to experiment with the form?The ribbing was originally developed in plastic and was then modified for the metal version. To be cost effective for both metal and plastic, we were limited to a two-part mold, which means that all the holes are cut in one direction. That was a challenge for us at first because we wanted the ribbing to feel integral, not applied. Both metal and plastic each developed differently as the stress analysis revealed distinct structural needs (for example with the rib number and sizes) and to address issues with the casting process.
The cantilevered Washington Chair is available in two different material options: the nylon "Skin" version (shown above) and aluminum "Skeleton." Photo by: Josh McHugh
This is is your first furniture collection. Did you approach designing the pieces in the same way you do for architectural projects?I explored a number of themes in the Knoll furniture—such as monumentality, materiality and history—which are also evident in my architectural projects. So the formal language is shared with some of the buildings I am currently working on. There is a common line of inquiry.
The aluminum Wahshington Skeleton Chair (shown above) is available in four different finishes. Its lattice pattern is reminiscent of Adjaye's design for the National Museum of African American History and Culture's facade. Photo by: Josh McHugh
Can we expect to see more furniture and products from you down the line?I hope so! I would love to have another opportunity to work on production furniture.
The Skeleton and Skin chairs feature variations on a similar lattice pattern.
Visit Knoll's home design shop at 1330 Avenue of the Americas October 2 through 31, Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. to view Adjaye's collection. Photo by: Dorothy Hong
Examples of Adjaye's architectural work and furniture models will be on view. Photo by: Dorothy Hong