The pioneer designer and mother of the “open-plan office”, Florence Knoll Bassett, passed away aged 101. One of the most influential people in the 20th-century design, the designer learned from the most important architects of our times.
As a young girl, Florence, who had become an orphan when she was 12, studied at the Kingwood School for Girls in Michigan, where she met the Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen, the school’s designer and father of the also architect, Eero Saarinen. She then studied architecture under Alvar Aalto at the Cranbrook Academy of Art, where Saarinen was the headteacher. If that weren’t enough, Florence Knoll Bassett went on to learn from Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and later completed her training under Mies van der Rohe!
Taking the most iconic European designers to America
With such an impressive curriculum under her arm, Florence moved to New York to work in architecture, but instead, married the German Hans Knoll, an heir to a German furniture company. The couple worked together to introduce the European design to the American market. Florence, as co-director of Knoll Associates, was responsible for the success in the USA, of the most well-known furniture designs, such as the iconic Saarinen’s Tulip chairs and tables that Notorious has and loves, and the world-famous Barcelona Chair, designed by Mies van der Rohe.
Creating the open-plan office
Besides bringing the furniture designers to America, the talented Knoll Bassett also created the Knoll Planning Unit, where she worked with interior design and came up with the concept of open workspaces, the offices without walls, where groups of furniture define the meeting areas. She designed furniture and created a textile department in the company too.
First woman to receive a gold award for Industrial Design
In 1961, the American Institute of Architects awarded Knoll Bassett with the Gold Medal for Industrial Design, and in 2003, she received the National Medal of Arts.
The designer sold the Knoll company in 1959 but worked as its design director until 1965. Knoll is still today, one of the most important furniture companies in the world.
Photos courtesy of Knoll