“Defining Modern” at PhilaU

The Florence Knoll exhibit “Defining Modern” is on display until December 15th in the lower level of our Gutman Library.  When Hans Knoll, the business person with vision, and Florence, a designer with a holistic view, began their interdisciplinary collaboration, they changed the world of interior design, architecture and industrial design. Florence (later to marry Hans) met with corporate clients to perform a functional analysis of their employees’ work habits and relationships. An understanding of these allowed her to propose office layouts that worked better, treated their inhabitants with dignity and did so in great elegance.  Furniture that worked in new spatial relationships did not readily exist, so the couple began to assemble designs from modernist architect friends and Florence added her furniture designs for manufacture.

For the corporations of the day this was a new way of doing business – a turnkey design and fabrication service that also created efficiencies in their workplace. But these corporate clients were not trained designers. They could not visualize space from reading blueprints, they could not imagine the elegance of specific materials combinations and they could not experience how the modern environments would work with color and graphics. Florence had to develop  presentation methods that enabled discussions between Knoll and the corporate leaders. The sample board was born, material sample swatches became a part of conversations and three-dimensional models were reviewed instead of looking at blueprints. The client became an integral part of developing solutions for the modern office. Instead of presenting furniture to their clients, lined up in rows in warehouses from which the clients were to select,  Hans and Florence projected their vision of the modern office through Knoll Showrooms, where architecture, interiors, furniture, tabletop accessories, textiles and graphics came together to create a brilliant vision of the new work place. All this is standard practice now; so engrained in how our professions operate that it takes effort to imagine these things suddenly “deleted” from professional practice.

Yes – it was great design work, but Hans and Florence Knoll reinvented their world through interdisciplinary collaboration. Neither would have succeeded in innovating so profoundly had they continued on their own. The “Defining Modern” exhibit pays homage to the “bigger whole”  we reach for on this campus.

More about the exhibit in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s article by Jane Von Bergen.


About corlettt

I teach industrial design at Philadelphia University.
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