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. Adjaye designed the furniture collection as he was working on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture (rendering shown above).
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.’ The limited edition Washington Corona Table (shown above) is made of four cast bronze panels. Photo by: Ilan Rubin
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