Knoll Gets in Touch With Its Bauhaus Roots
View Photos

Knoll Gets in Touch With Its Bauhaus Roots

Add to
Like
Share
By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy
“Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus” explores the link between the company and the legendary school—and their joint impact on the course of design. The exhibition, which debuted in Milan during Salone del Mobile, will now tour to Paris, London, Tokyo, Seoul, and Sydney.

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, and to celebrate Knoll's connection to the immeasurably influential German design school, the American furniture brand recently mounted an exhibition dedicated to their relationship and impact on the course of modern design. In the process, the show traces a thread trough some of Knoll's greatest hits. 

<i>Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus</i>

Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus

Newsletter
Join the Daily Dose Newsletter

Get carefully curated content filled with inspiring homes from around the world, innovative new products, and the best in modern design

The story begins with the rise of Nazi Germany and the close of the Bauhaus, which found its third director, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, emigrating to Chicago in 1936. Florence Knoll studied under the legendary designer before co-founding her eponymous brand in 1946. They developed a friendship and working relationship that led to Mies van der Rohe granting Knoll's company exclusive rights to produce his furniture.

The new <i>Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus</i> exhibition explores the historical intersections between Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Florence Knoll, and other modern design icons.

The new Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus exhibition explores the historical intersections between Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Florence Knoll, and other modern design icons.

The exhibition highlights these historical connections through an assortment of objects that span 88 years, including Mies van der Rohe’s best-known furnishings, as well as later work by Frank Gehry and David Adjaye that show the lasting influence of the design school. The objects are grouped thematically to illustrate links between various designers, allowing visitors to chart the school's enduring impact on furniture design.

<i>Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus</i>

Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus

Archival Knoll images helped inform the exhibition.

Archival Knoll images helped inform the exhibition.

Shop the Look
Knoll Saarinen Womb Chair
Knoll Saarinen Womb Chair
Florence Knoll challenged legendary designer Eero Saarinen to create a chair that she could curl up in that provides a supreme amount of comfort. The result: the Saarinen Womb Chair. Designed in 1948, this timeless piece was crafted in a way to provide a sense of comfort and security.
The ABC's of The Bauhaus
The ABC's of The Bauhaus
First published in 1991, this book collects a series of essays about the legendary Bauhaus school founded in Dessau, Germany. The compiled texts discuss topics ranging from psychoanalysis to geometry, early childhood education, and popular culture.
Vitra Miniature B3 Wassily Lounge Chair
Vitra Miniature B3 Wassily Lounge Chair
The Vitra Miniature Collection presents important modern furniture classics in a smaller size. Although more petite than the full-size originals, each part of the Vitra Minature series is an exact 1:6 replica of the historical design, including the construction, materials, and colors.

Curated and designed by Office for Metropolitan Architecture partner Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli and design historian Domitilla Dardi, Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus commemorates the school’s 100-year anniversary. "I would not call it an exhibition," says Laparelli. "What we did was to stage a relationship, to reflect on two stories, Knoll and Bauhaus, which really contributed to construct modernity as we know it."

The exhibition features four clusters that allow visitors to explore five scenes of modernity.

The exhibition features four clusters that allow visitors to explore five scenes of modernity.

Laparelli and Dardi tell these stories through four "clusters"—each dedicated to a designer or architect who had a special connection to the Bauhaus and Knoll. The clusters are architectural fragments populated by furniture and objects, and each cluster takes you into a different space and a different time. Visitors are invited into the scene to walk around, interact, and listen to archival interviews with the subjects.

Visitors interacting with the clusters in the exhibition.

Visitors interacting with the clusters in the exhibition.

"Each cluster features objects not necessarily related to Knoll or the Bauhaus, but related to the cultural context and historical context in which those people operated," says Laparelli. He goes on to say, "Somehow you feel that these pieces can exist 50 years ago in the same way they exist perfectly today." 

<i>Cluster 1: Marcel Breuer</i>

Cluster 1: Marcel Breuer

Cluster 1 is focused on Marcel Breuer, who was first a student, then a teacher at the Bauhaus. Breuer's scene draws in elements of the Piscator house he designed in New York and the office of the first Bauhaus director, Walter Gropius. 

<i>Cluster 2: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe</i>

Cluster 2: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Cluster 2 centers upon Mies van der Rohe, who directed the Bauhaus until it was forced to close in 1933. The display is based on a section of Mies' Barcelona Pavilion, which is an emblematic work of the modernist movement.

<i>Cluster 2: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe</i>

Cluster 2: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

In the Mies cluster, there is a Kodak camera from 1936, Chanel no.5 perfume, and a Model 300 Bell telephone designed by Henry Dreyfuss in 1937.

<i>Cluster 3: Florence Knoll</i>

Cluster 3: Florence Knoll

Cluster 3 showcases Florence Knoll's table, armchair, and sofa, designed in 1954, alongside work from her close collaborators Charles Eames and Harry Bertoia. The architectural element is based on a section of Case Study House No. 8—The Eames House.

<i>Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Gehry</i>

Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Gehry

Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction is broken into two scenes, and takes its title from Robert Venturi’s famous 1977 essay "Complexity and Contradiction in Architecture." Here, the exhibition explores a dialogue between opposites, attempting to showcase the cultural debt owed to the modern movement.

<i>Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Gehry</i>

Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Gehry

"We didn't want just to celebrate the Bauhaus or the legacy of the modern movement; we also introduced two moments that tell how, after the end of the modern movement, generations of designers and architects reacted to it," says Laparelli.

"What we claim is that they would never have produced the pieces they produced—the architecture, or the thinking that they did—if Bauhaus never existed. We see their work as a reaction to the legacy of the Bauhaus."

<i>Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Gehry</i>

Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Gehry

One scene in Cluster 4 is dedicated to Frank Gehry—it pairs a Wassily chair designed by Breuer in 1924 with a Power Play club chair designed by Frank Gehry for Knoll in 1990. "Here there is clearly an understanding of a system, an understanding of the structure, but the language is completely different," says Laparelli. 

<i>Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Adjaye</i>

Cluster 4: Complexity and Contradiction—Breuer/Adjaye

The other scene in Cluster 4 features the Skeleton chair David Adjaye designed for Knoll in 2013; Marcel Breuer's 1928 Cesca Chair; and a "ghost chair"—Breuer's pre-Bauhaus African chair—designed in 1922.

"The ghost chair is actually the African chair that Breuer designed when he was a student at the Bauhaus, before the eruption of modernism and international style, when it was most concerned with local arts and crafts," says Laparelli. "It's very interesting that the African chair Breuer designed when he was extremely young still has more to do with the David Adjaye chair than his later Cesca chair, designed a few years later."

<i>Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus</i>

Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus

To develop the exhibition, OMA and Knoll created a diagram to explore the connections and relationships between people, objects, and architecture. 

"From that, we extracted those stories or objects that were interesting for us—that we could represent in the real space," says Laparelli. "It started as a mental map of all possible relationships in product design: people, histories, encounters, interviews, architecture, travels, and so on. And then from that, we made the selections and built the clusters in the physical space."

The diagram OMA, Laparelli, and Dardi used to trace the connections between the Bauhaus and Knoll.

The diagram OMA, Laparelli, and Dardi used to trace the connections between the Bauhaus and Knoll.

Reflecting on what has come after the Bauhaus and modernism, Laparelli says, "I think we are in a stage that is far beyond the modern movement and far beyond also postmodernism. Performance is becoming a key factor in everything that we envision in design. And by performance, I mean not necessarily the actual aesthetic quality of an object, but the way an object responds to these challenges—from its production, to the way it's used, to the way it's eventually dismissed."

<i>Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus</i>

Knoll Celebrates Bauhaus

"This transition is leading to a new way of designing—an extremely fresh way to understand design as a way to read the reality we live in," says Laparelli. "The opportunities that are given to us by material sciences, by technology, are beyond anything that we could imagine just 20 years ago. This is really opening a phase that is completely, completely new."

Related Reading: 100 Years of Bauhaus: What You Should Know About This Milestone Movement, Modernist Master Florence Knoll Dies at 101