This post was originally published on Knoll Inspiration in 2015.
Prism™ is the latest assortment of furniture designed for Knoll by David Adjaye, the critically acclaimed British-Ghanian architect who won the Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts. Comprising three lounge pieces—Lounge Chair, Ottoman and Side Table—Prism™ joins previous designs by Adjaye—Washington Skeleton™ Aluminum Side Chair, Washington Skin™ Nylon Side Chair and Washington Corona™ Coffee Table—completing The Washington Collection™ for Knoll. Each form consists of a glossy core laminate shell—available in red, white or black—which appears in contrast with the softness of the upholstered surfaces on the lounge chair and ottoman. The Side Table is available in five marble top finishes: Arabescato, Calacutta, Nero, Marquina and Verdi Alpi.
Continuing Adjaye’s fascinations with the interplay of form and light, Prism's design draws on Adjaye’s developed architectural vocabulary, adapting it from the urban scale. "The formal language is shared with some of the buildings I am currently working on," says Adjaye. "There is a common line of inquiry, and it has presented an opportunity to express my position in terms of materials, silhouettes and forms." The collection’s multifaceted forms are inspired by how natural geometries occupy space, giving presence or absence to an environment.
"The formal language is shared with some of the buildings I am currently working on. There is a common line of inquiry, and it has presented an opportunity to express my position in terms of materials, silhouettes and forms."
"Prism explores a number of common themes with other pieces in The Washington Collection, such as monumentality, materiality and history," says Adjaye, "relating specifically to the focus of my [architectural] work at that time."
Among those themes is that of mass and heft. "The idea of suspending the body in space by the lightest possible means was explored by the Skin and Skeleton chairs," Adjaye explains. "With Prism, I was seeking something very different. I wanted to reference the weight and mass of the idea of monument and I sought to celebrate the material presence of these forms." The Lounge Chair includes a surprising twist: it swivels. The detail brings unexpected lightness to the heavy form.
Conceived as an entity, the collection "is a play on the idea of permanence and history versus modernity," in Adjaye's words. The cantilevered design of the Washington Skin and Skeleton Chairs continues the modernist preoccupation with perfecting the suspended seat—as explored by the likes of Mart Staam, Marcel Breuer and Lugwig Mies van der Rohe—while Prism has the presence of furniture in the pre-modern tradition.
When first approached by Knoll about the prospect of designing a collection, Adjaye was hesitant. "Benjamin [Pardo, Knoll Design Director,] first approached me and said, ‘Would you like to make a chair for us?’ I was like, "A chair? I don’t know how to do a chair.’ He said, ‘Don’t worry about making a chair, just make a series of studies that stimulate you and we will go from there and see what can be produced.’"According to Pardo, Prism was one of the first chairs that Adjaye discussed with Knoll. "There was always this lounge chair; it anchored the collection," says Pardo, adding that it provided the most direct means of transitioning from an architectural scale to domestic scale. "It was an extremely complicated chair to engineer," Pardo reflects on the process, "because of the interlocking requirements [of the form's base and upholstered seating], it took a long time to get right."
Over the years, Adjaye has increasingly dedicated himself to exploring craft at the human scale, which offers him "a testing ground for ideas." As the first collection of furniture designed by David Adjaye, The Washington Collection™ presented a new kind of challenge for the architect. "While I have previously designed objects, I had never worked on production furniture before collaborating with Knoll. 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."
More on Knoll Inspiration: David Adjaye opens up about the Washington Collection for Knoll™