Contract - David Adjaye discusses The Washington Collection he designed for Knoll

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David Adjaye discusses The Washington Collection he designed for Knoll

02 December, 2013

-By Staff



London-based architect and designer David Adjaye is known for his architecture of poetic forms. Building on his design expertise and aesthetic, Adjaye developed a small collection of furniture exclusively for Knoll called The Washington Collection, consisting of two cantilevered side chairs, a club chair, an ottoman, a side table and a monumental bronze coffee table. The side chairs, Washington Skin and Washington Skeleton, and the bronze coffee table, Washington Corona, were introduced this fall. The other pieces will follow in 2014. The chairs share a similar cantilevered form. Washington Skeleton is constructed of die-cast aluminum and is available in outdoor paint finishes or copper plated, and Washington Skin is sheathed in reinforced nylon. Washington Corona is limited to an edition of 75 to mark Knoll’s 75th anniversary. Adjaye talked to Contract about the furniture design.

What was your initial reaction to being asked by Knoll to design a furniture collection for the company?
Adjaye: Initially, I was apprehensive. I am an architect, not a furniture designer. But when I understood that it would be an opportunity to express my position in terms of materials, silhouettes, and forms—in fact, an extension of my work as an architect—then it became more interesting and I felt more confident with the idea.

How did you begin the design approach for this collection? Did you consider this in relation to other Knoll pieces in any way?

Adjaye: It was very much an exploration of the “body in space,” but on
a smaller scale than my architectural work. Knoll has always had an amazing ability to produce furniture that is a distillation of the zeitgeist of the age, and it was this relationship between life, space, and objects that resonated with my own work.

Describe the design inspiration for Washington Skeleton and Washington Skin.
Adjaye: My starting point was the idea of a seated person, and the
form of the chair echoes this. The pattern is, then, a drawing of the forces required to brace this shape and make it a chair. It is like an exoskeleton and the Skeleton and Skin chairs are like positive
and negative versions of this same shape.



Describe working with Knoll on the rigorous testing, production, and prototyping process.

Adjaye: I worked very closely with Knoll’s technical team, and it was a fascinating learning curve. Making production furniture—which is not something that I had done before—is very different from creating objects. The furniture went through many iterations, studies, and tests. To make the cantilevered legs, for example, Knoll developed the material technology to allow the back to flex, and the T-junction in the legs has a metal insert to resist stress. As a result, the chair’s form is minimal, yet can hold 300 pounds!

What was the biggest challenge in designing the structure of the Washington Skeleton or Washington Skin chairs? How was that challenge overcome?

Adjaye: 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 and that required all holes to be cut in one direction. That was a challenge for us, at first, because we wanted the ribbing to feel integral, not applied. The stress analysis revealed distinct structural needs between the metal and plastic chairs (for example, with the rib number and sizes) and we needed to address those issues with the casting process.

Looking down at Washington Corona table is a bit of an optical illusion. Describe how you achieved that.
Adjaye: I wanted to explore the idea of a surface that has a visual power. The exterior four sandcast bronze panels are exposed in their raw, sandcast state, and the interior of each is mirror polished. The contrast in the finish is an investigation into the relationship between inside and outside, public and private, exposing and concealing. These are ideas that feed into my work more generally. It also highlights the two sides
of the single, structural surfaces. The legs serve to fix the surfaces together and to support the glass so the form makes the structure.




David Adjaye discusses The Washington Collection he designed for Knoll

02 December, 2013


London-based architect and designer David Adjaye is known for his architecture of poetic forms. Building on his design expertise and aesthetic, Adjaye developed a small collection of furniture exclusively for Knoll called The Washington Collection, consisting of two cantilevered side chairs, a club chair, an ottoman, a side table and a monumental bronze coffee table. The side chairs, Washington Skin and Washington Skeleton, and the bronze coffee table, Washington Corona, were introduced this fall. The other pieces will follow in 2014. The chairs share a similar cantilevered form. Washington Skeleton is constructed of die-cast aluminum and is available in outdoor paint finishes or copper plated, and Washington Skin is sheathed in reinforced nylon. Washington Corona is limited to an edition of 75 to mark Knoll’s 75th anniversary. Adjaye talked to Contract about the furniture design.

What was your initial reaction to being asked by Knoll to design a furniture collection for the company?
Adjaye: Initially, I was apprehensive. I am an architect, not a furniture designer. But when I understood that it would be an opportunity to express my position in terms of materials, silhouettes, and forms—in fact, an extension of my work as an architect—then it became more interesting and I felt more confident with the idea.

How did you begin the design approach for this collection? Did you consider this in relation to other Knoll pieces in any way?

Adjaye: It was very much an exploration of the “body in space,” but on
a smaller scale than my architectural work. Knoll has always had an amazing ability to produce furniture that is a distillation of the zeitgeist of the age, and it was this relationship between life, space, and objects that resonated with my own work.

Describe the design inspiration for Washington Skeleton and Washington Skin.
Adjaye: My starting point was the idea of a seated person, and the
form of the chair echoes this. The pattern is, then, a drawing of the forces required to brace this shape and make it a chair. It is like an exoskeleton and the Skeleton and Skin chairs are like positive
and negative versions of this same shape.



Describe working with Knoll on the rigorous testing, production, and prototyping process.

Adjaye: I worked very closely with Knoll’s technical team, and it was a fascinating learning curve. Making production furniture—which is not something that I had done before—is very different from creating objects. The furniture went through many iterations, studies, and tests. To make the cantilevered legs, for example, Knoll developed the material technology to allow the back to flex, and the T-junction in the legs has a metal insert to resist stress. As a result, the chair’s form is minimal, yet can hold 300 pounds!

What was the biggest challenge in designing the structure of the Washington Skeleton or Washington Skin chairs? How was that challenge overcome?

Adjaye: 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 and that required all holes to be cut in one direction. That was a challenge for us, at first, because we wanted the ribbing to feel integral, not applied. The stress analysis revealed distinct structural needs between the metal and plastic chairs (for example, with the rib number and sizes) and we needed to address those issues with the casting process.

Looking down at Washington Corona table is a bit of an optical illusion. Describe how you achieved that.
Adjaye: I wanted to explore the idea of a surface that has a visual power. The exterior four sandcast bronze panels are exposed in their raw, sandcast state, and the interior of each is mirror polished. The contrast in the finish is an investigation into the relationship between inside and outside, public and private, exposing and concealing. These are ideas that feed into my work more generally. It also highlights the two sides
of the single, structural surfaces. The legs serve to fix the surfaces together and to support the glass so the form makes the structure.

 


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