When architects are asked to focus their talents on product design, they invariably turn to chairs. The engineering required to create a sturdy foundation, the freedom in envisioning a new structural form, the human interaction—it has a lot in common with designing buildings, only without the large-scale budget and years of construction.
New York- and London-based David Adjaye is the latest architect-designer to take a seat. The Ghanaian Brit, who is currently at work on the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, is designing a furniture line for Knoll. The company has historically worked with celebrated architects, such as Frank Gehry, but was on something of a hiatus until Benjamin Pardo, Knoll’s EVP of Design, picked up the phone to call Adjaye.
"Something that always attracted me was his use of different types of materials," Pardo says of Adjaye’s knack for blending materials like timber and glass. "And the use of light in interior spaces, either through fenestration or some other form or articulation, that would register light movement throughout the day."
That play on light occurs spectacularly in Adjaye’s Skeleton chair: "It becomes a whole other chair when the light is coming through," says Pardo.
The collaboration began with an understanding that Adjaye would design only a single plastic chair. But his design for it quickly inspired a whole line, the Washington Collection, in which the aluminum Skeleton is a star bit of seating as well as a thematic piece. (The Washington Skin plastic chairs showcase the lattice pattern of the Skeleton on the backside.) Pardo describes it as an exoskeleton, a frame meant to support the human form in repose.
Adjaye's Corona bronze table most literally taps other elements of his work—the Smithsonian project is in some ways a glass box—but also has an audacious visual magnitude that echoes Chicago’s Cloud Gate sculpture by Anish Kapoor.
The relationship between the architect's buildings and the new collection for Knoll, says Pardo, is best understood by considering the human interaction at play: "How do you humanize someone in an office? Intellectually the table is a small building, and the chair is you," he says. "[They both] evolve through the day as light moves through."
The Washington Collection will be available through Knoll this October.