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Architect Magazine
Known for his contributions to the Radical design movement, di Francia passed away on July 30.

Cristiano Toraldo di Francia, a Florentine architect known for founding the Radical design movement collective, Superstudio, died on Tuesday. Di Francia was 78 years old.

Di Francia studied architecture at the University of Florence, founding Superstudio with his friend and classmate Adolfo Natalini in 1966, two years before he graduated in 1968. The group—eventually also led by G. Piero Frassinelli, Alessandro and Roberto Magris, and Alessandro Poli—garnered initial attention for its 1996 "Superarchitettura" exhibition. Through this and other work, di Francia and his collaborators resisted the rational practicality of Modernist architecture, creating elaborate sketches for conceptual projects that pushed the boundaries of conventional design. This “anti-architecture” and philosophical approach sparked discussions in the architecture community about theoretical approaches to design and remains a cornerstone movement in the history of architecture. During the collective’s 12-year history, its proposals were published in Domus and Architectural Design magazines and exhibited in venues such as the Venice Biennale (1978, 1996, 2014), the Museum of Modern Art (1972, 2002), and at the Metropolitan Museum in New York (1976).

When Superstudio dissolved in 1978, di Francia continued his work independently, first with Italian architect Andrea Noferi in 1994 and then in 1999 with Italian architect Lorena Luccioni, who later became de Francia's wife. Di Francia completed several projects after the end of Superstudio, such as the San Paolo di Torino Banking Institute in Prato, Italy; the Liverno waterfront in Liverno, Italy; and the controversial La Pensilina di Santa Maria Novella bus and taxi terminal in Florence, which was demolished in 2010 when Matteo Renzi served as the city's mayor. Di Francia taught and lectured in several cities around the world, eventually joining the University of Camerino (Unicam) in Ascolio Piceno, Italy, in 1992 as an associate professor of architectural design and founding member of the institution’s architecture faculty.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the university community expressed its sorrow from the loss and offered its condolences to di Francia’s family.

“Unicam recalls the competence, preparation, passion for research and teaching that have always marked its figure of university professor, together with an extraordinary humanity and proximity to the dreams and aspirations of students, for which it has always been point of Unique and irreplaceable reference.”
Philippe Lopez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Cesar Pelli, who designed some of the world’s most recognizable buildings, died on Friday at his home in New Haven. He was 92.

His son Rafael confirmed the death.

Mr. Pelli’s works included the cluster of towers making up the World Financial Center (now called Brookfield Place) at Battery Park City in New York, famous for the glass-roofed Winter Garden at its center; the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles, known for its bright blue glass facade; and Ronald Reagan National Airport outside Washington.

Although his work was wide-ranging — he designed the United States Embassy in Tokyo, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center at Vassar, among other projects — Mr. Pelli was particularly known for his skyscrapers.

His Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004. Other Pelli towers, if not record holders, commanded the skylines of cities around the world. He designed the One Canada Square tower at Canary Wharf in London; the Carnegie Hall Tower in New York; the Salesforce Tower, now the tallest building in San Francisco; the International Finance Centre in Hong Kong; the Wells Fargo tower in Minneapolis; the UniCredit Tower in Milan; the Torre Banco Macro in Buenos Aires; and the Goldman Sachs tower in Jersey City, among many others.

He won hundreds of architecture awards, including the 1995 gold medal of the American Institute of Architects, its highest honor.

Mr. Pelli’s success came late in life. He didn’t open his own firm until he was 50, and even then, he said, “It was only because I was forced to.” That happened in 1977, when he was chosen to design the renovation and expansion of the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan.

With his wife, the landscape architect Diana Balmori, and a former colleague, Fred Clarke, he formed Cesar Pelli & Associates Architects to handle the MoMA project.

The firm grew, eventually becoming Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects. The second Pelli in the name is his son Rafael, who practiced out of an office in Manhattan while Mr. Pelli and Mr. Clarke ran the New Haven office that Mr. Pelli set up in 1977 in a modest two-story building across the street from the Yale School of Architecture, where he was then serving as dean.

It was an unprepossessing location for a firm that would become one of the most prolific designers of skyscrapers around the world. It remained Mr. Pelli’s base until his death.

The couple never returned to Argentina to live. Instead, one of Mr. Pelli’s professors, Ambrose Richardson, recommended him to Eero Saarinen, the great Finnish-American architect then working in Bloomfield Hills, Mich. Mr. Pelli spent almost 10 years at the Saarinen firm.

One of his projects there was the TWA Flight Center at Kennedy Airport. As Mr. Pelli recalled it, Mr. Saarinen was unhappy when structural engineers informed him that the building’s two central columns would have to cross each other, forming a giant X. Mr. Saarinen asked Mr. Pelli to try to sculpt those columns into something beautiful, which, in Mr. Pelli’s account, led to the celebrated gull-winged building.

Later, Mr. Pelli was assigned by Mr. Saarinen to work on two new residential colleges at Yale, which were being built on a tight budget. Mr. Saarinen came up with a scheme to use walls of reinforced concrete with large, exposed stones — an inexpensive way of evoking Yale’s older masonry buildings. When Mr. Saarinen died in 1961, Mr. Pelli continued working on what became Ezra Stiles College and Morse College, considered exemplars of gentle modernism.

Jayne Merkel, a Saarinen biographer, said Mr. Pelli was “the real creative right-hand man” on both the TWA and Yale buildings.

In 1967, Mr. Pelli took a job in California at a giant architecture and engineering firm known as DMJM. The firm’s commercial clients wanted buildings quickly and on budget, and Mr. Pelli enjoyed great freedom as a designer, as long as he met those goals.

He became particularly well known for his experiments with new forms of glass facades, and designed numerous buildings covered in different forms of reflective glass, including glass in colored panels. But the glass skins, which obscured pretty much everything behind them (but often offered gorgeous reflections of the sky) weren’t right fo
Architectural Record
Philip Freelon, FAIA, a much-admired, award-winning architect, died today at the age of 66. He had been diagnosed with ALS in 2016.

Freelon founded his practice, The Freelon Group, in Durham, North Carolina, in 1990, and went on to design civic and cultural projects throughout the United States—libraries, schools, museums, parks, and academic buildings, notably for a number of historically African American colleges. His best-known works include the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, where he worked with David Adjaye (Freelon’s firm was architect of record); the National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta; the Harvey B. Gantt Center in Charlotte, North Carolina; the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco; Emancipation Park in Houston; and the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum in Jackson.

In 2014, the Freelon Group, one of the largest African American–owned firms in the country, joined with Perkins and Will. Freelon continued to lead his team on such projects as the North Carolina Freedom Park in Raleigh; the Durham Transportation Center; and the Motown Museum expansion in Detroit.

In paying tribute to his colleague, Adjaye told RECORD, “I am deeply saddened by the loss of Phil Freelon. He leaves behind an indelible mark on the practice of architecture and his legacy transcends the brick and mortar of the buildings he designed. Phil was a pioneer, an advocate of diversity and inclusion, and his impact will only strengthen over time as we continue to see people of color rising in the field of architecture. More than anything, however, Phil was a dear friend and mentor.”

Indeed, Freelon was a highly influential leader in the profession, where barely two percent of registered architects are African American, and hugely encouraging to younger minority practitioners. A statuesque man with a gentle demeanor, he was a fierce proponent for equity and pluralism, and brought a deep humanism to the communities with whom he worked and to his architecture. The two curving walls of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, for example, were inspired by the arms linked together during the historic marches for civil rights.

Born in Philadelphia—and the grandson of Allan Randall Freelon, a painter associated with the Harlem Renaissance—Freelon studied architecture at North Carolina State University and earned an M.Arch. from M.I.T. He was the youngest architect to pass the registration exam in North Carolina, at age 25. In mid-career, he was a Loeb Fellow at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design and received honorary degrees from NC State, Duke University, and the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He taught and lectured throughout his career at various institutions, and was a professor of practice at M.I.T. His awards include the AIA North Carolina Gold Medal and the Thomas Jefferson Award for Public Architecture. President Obama appointed him to the United States Commission of Fine Arts in 2011.

Freelon is survived by his wife, jazz singer Nnenna Freelon, and three children.
Sean Airhart
Award winning architect William “Bill” Bain Jr. died Saturday at the age of 88, surrounded by his family.

Bain spent six decades at NBBJ, which was co-founded by Bain’s father in 1943, and shaped projects such as Seattle's Two Union Square, Pacific Place, and the renovation of the Paramount Theatre.

John Nesholm, founding partner at LMN Architects, worked for Bain on projects such as the Rainier Tower from 1969 to 1979.

“Bill was an admired icon of Seattle architecture,” Nesholm said. “He stood for great design, and inspired and launched many careers and was proud for their successes. He also, through his many volunteer activities, was a shaper of our city. He will be greatly missed.”

In a note to colleagues at the firm, NBBJ Partner Richard F. Dallam wrote:

We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our dear friend and colleague Bill Bain Jr., a longtime leader at NBBJ and the son of founding co-partner William Bain Sr. Bill joined the firm in 1955 after graduating from Cornell University and serving in the Army Corps of Engineers. Throughout his 64 years at NBBJ, Bill held numerous leadership positions, making a significant impact on the growth and success of the firm. Bill was awarded the American Institute of Architects, Seattle Chapter, Medal of Honor in recognition for his remarkable achievements throughout his career. Described by those who knew him as the "heart and soul" of NBBJ and "Mr. Seattle," Bill's devotion to architecture and city-building has had a significant impact on Seattle. It's impossible to separate the work of the firm from the leadership of Bill Bain Jr. From the realization of Seattle's iconic Two Union Square high-rise and Pacific Place, to the U.S. Federal Courthouse, Bill was instrumental in helping NBBJ grow into a firm that is among the most innovative in the world. Bill, deeply committed to our Seattle community, served as past president of the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Architects, president of the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chair of the Downtown Seattle Association. May Bill's legacy at NBBJ continue to live in our work.

NBBJ Partner David Yuan recalls coming to Seattle from Boston decades ago with a small black portfolio case, and facing Bain in an interview.

“He was as gracious the first day I met him as he was the last day I saw him. And he was sincere, and helpful and he gave me a job. He changed my life,” Yuan said. “It’s a tremendous loss for me personally, for our firm and for our city and community.”

A skyline shaper, Bain also led the renovation of landmarks such as the Olympic Hotel and the Paramount Theatre.

“Bill Bain was truly one of the people who helped the Paramount Theatre realize ‘historic.’ Bill’s memory will always be a blessing to all of us here at the Paramount,” Seattle Theatre Group’s Executive Director Josh LaBelle said.

Seattle Repertory Theatre's Managing Director Jeffrey Herrmann said Bain was very important to the history of The Rep. "Bill and his firm designed the Bagley Wright Theatre which opened nearly 40 years ago, and he was a subscriber and supporter here going back decades. I will miss seeing him at the theater and am thinking a lot about his wife Nancy and their whole family today.

Among his community ties, Bain was also a member of the Board of the Corporate Council for the Arts, the Urban Land Institute, Pacific Real Estate Institute, and Lambda Alpha, an honorary professional land economics society.

“I loved Bill Bain for his generosity of heart and spirit,” said The 5th Avenue Theatre’s Managing Director Bernie Griffin. “Anytime I called him for counsel on a situation he was there for me. He was one of those individuals who would always take my call and provide support and assistance. He was a friend and mentor and I will miss him with all my heart.”

Bain is survived by his wife Nancy Bain, and his sons David Hunter Bain, John Worthington Bain, Mark Sanford Bain (Anuschka Blommers); and two grandchildren, Tesla Bain and Atom Bain.
Marc Riboud/Magnum Photos
I. M. Pei, who began his long career designing buildings for a New York real estate developer and ended it as one of the most revered architects in the world, died early Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 102.

His death was confirmed by his son Li Chung Pei, who is also an architect and known as Sandi. He said his father had recently celebrated his birthday with a family dinner.

Best known for designing the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington and the glass pyramid at the entrance to the Louvre in Paris, Mr. Pei was one of the few architects who were equally attractive to real estate developers, corporate chieftains and art museum boards (the third group, of course, often made up of members of the first two). And all of his work — from his commercial skyscrapers to his art museums — represented a careful balance of the cutting edge and the conservative.

Mr. Pei remained a committed modernist, and while none of his buildings could ever be called old-fashioned or traditional, his particular brand of modernism — clean, reserved, sharp-edged and unapologetic in its use of simple geometries and its aspirations to monumentality — sometimes seemed to be a throwback, at least when compared with the latest architectural trends.

This hardly bothered him. What he valued most in architecture, he said, was that it “stand the test of time.”

He maintained that he wanted not just to solve problems but also to produce “an architecture of ideas.” He worried, he added, “that ideas and professional practice do not intersect enough.”

Mr. Pei, who was born in China and moved to the United States in the 1930s, was hired by William Zeckendorf in 1948, shortly after he received his graduate degree in architecture from Harvard, to oversee the design of buildings produced by Zeckendorf’s firm, Webb & Knapp.

At a time when most of his Harvard classmates considered themselves fortunate to get to design a single-family house or two, Mr. Pei quickly found himself engaged in the design of high-rise buildings, and he used that experience as a springboard to establish his own firm, I. M. Pei & Associates, which he set up in 1955 with Henry Cobb and Eason Leonard, the team he had assembled at Webb & Knapp.

In its early years, I. M. Pei & Associates mainly executed projects for Zeckendorf, including Kips Bay Plaza in New York, finished in 1963; Society Hill Towers in Philadelphia (1964); and Silver Towers in New York (1967). All were notable for their gridded concrete facades.

The firm became fully independent from Webb & Knapp in 1960, by which time Mr. Pei, a cultivated man whose understated manner and easy charm masked an intense, competitive ambition, was winning commissions for major projects that had nothing to do with Zeckendorf. Among these were the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., completed in 1967, and the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse and the Des Moines Art Center, both finished in 1968.

They were the first in a series of museums he designed that would come to include the East Building (1978) and the Louvre pyramid (1989) as well as the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, for which he designed what amounted to a huge glass tent in 1995. It was perhaps his most surprising commission.
Vikky Wilkes
Born and educated in Milan, Enrico Taglietti would bring a European sophistication and sensibility to Canberra.

As a student at the Politecnico di Milano, his teachers included design luminaries Gio Ponti, Bruno Zevi and Pier Luigi Nervi. On graduation in 1953 he commenced his career as an architectural consultant, participating with Carlo di Carli on the inventive Sant’Erasmo theatre, and undertaking various residential and commercial developments in Milan and Zurich. Appointed curator of the foreign exhibits at the 1954 Milan Triennial, he was subsequently invited to bring a selection of Italian designs to Sydney for exhibition at David Jones’ department store in 1955.

At that time, under the direction of Sir Charles Lloyd Jones, the main Sydney store was the hub of Sydney’s cultural life. Here one could see, at various times, a full-size facsimile of Michelangelo’s David, sculptures by Rodin, rare Chinese porcelain or Sidney Nolan’s surreal desert paintings. During his visit, Taglietti was introduced to the leaders of Sydney society, and was commissioned by the Italian ambassador to search for a suitable site for the Italian Embassy in Canberra.

Canberra before the lake (pre-1964) was an odd place – a scatter of formal public buildings and six garden suburbs in search of a city. Each element was separated by grassy paddocks, and at its centre one descended to cross the winding Molonglo River by means of clanking timber bridges. Learning that Canberra was being reviewed for major improvements to fulfil its role as the national capital, and sensing that Australia was a place of opportunity, Taglietti set up his practice in Canberra in 1956.

His European training and cosmopolitan flair were evident in his work from the start and his buildings stood out amongst the tame Anglo-Australian products of the time. Clearly outside the Australian architectural mainstream, they were both intriguing and idiosyncratic and gave distinction to the emerging city of Canberra. His early buildings in Civic – the Town House Motel (1961 – now demolished) and the Centre Cinema (1966) – featured strong, exaggerated sculptural shapes, and used powerful cantilevered elements. The motel’s sculptured panels by Clement Meadmore are now in the National Gallery of Australia.

Taglietti’s powerful visual imagery is very evident in the McKeown House (1965) at Watson with its dramatic canted walls and cantilevered deck and roofs, or the monumental scale and articulated concrete elevations of the Australian War Memorial Annex (1978-9) at Mitchell. He used concrete for striking visual and special effects in grand gestures: in massive sculptural walls and cantilevers at the Smith House (1968-70) at West Pennant Hills, or as blockwork in the fortress-like base of the Paterson House (1970) at Aranda. His key interiors are equally arresting, with strongly detailed and generous volumes capped by vaulted ceilings. Lacquered timber boarding, plywood or even thick Canite panels were used to provide textural contrast, along with floors of hardwood, tile or carpet.

In Canberra Taglietti’s well-known works include the Dickson Library (1962), the award-winning Giralang Primary School (1975), the Apostolic Nunciature (1977) at Red Hill, the Phillips Fox Building (1985) in Civic, and the Saudi Arabian Ambassador’s Residence (1996) at Garran. He was responsible for the realisation of the Italian Embassy (1967-74). Outside of Canberra, major public works include the Town House Motel (1962) at Wagga Wagga; St Anthony’s Church (1968) at Marsfield; and the St Kilda Library (1969).
Fastily/Wikimedia Commons
George Homsey, one of the founding members of San Francisco–based firm Esherick Homsey Dodge and Davis (EHDD), has passed away.

Widely considered a giant of California architecture, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, Homsey practiced architecture with EHDD for nearly 50 years before parting ways with the firm in 2000 to run his own practice. During Homsey’s storied career, he worked with some of the greats of late-20th-century Northern California architecture, including business partner Joseph Esherick, and collaborators Charles Moore and William Turnbull.

Together with these architects, Homsey helped bring to life Sea Ranch, the iconic shingled housing development situated on the rugged California coast north of San Francisco, as well as many delightful and contemplative private residences, schools, and public buildings.

Homsey was regarded as the diligent and strong-willed counterpart to Esherick at EHDD, and helped to animate Esherick’s conceptually-driven works with a sensitivity to light, composition, and pragmatic materiality that made Homsey one of the fathers of what some called the “Third Bay Tradition,” a vernacular style of architecture that channeled and updated the Bay Area’s woodsy architectural and environmental influences for a new generation.

Homsey, for example, was one of the chief designers of the hedgerow homes at Sea Ranch, a series of shed-roofed and wood-clad abodes that simultaneously struck out from and blended into the site’s scrubby terrain.

Born in 1926 in San Francisco’s Western Addition, Homsey grew up in a typical San Francisco duplex where the modest units were separated by a pragmatic light well. The son of an auto mechanic, Homsey trained to become a naval aviator to serve in the military, but the war ended before he could take flight. With this training in hand, Homsey set out to study architecture at the City College of San Francisco and at the University of California, Berkeley. He joined Esherick’s fledgling firm in 1952 and made partner 20 years later.

Homsey would go on to create the design guidelines for Yosemite National Park as well as comprehensive designs for San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit stations. He was awarded the Maybeck Award for lifetime achievement in architectural design by the American Institute of Architects, California Council in 2006 for his work.
Library of Congress
Like his mentor Eero Saarinen, Kevin Roche could design buildings of startling originality. His Ford Foundation headquarters, on 42nd Street in Manhattan, completed in 1967, arrays glass-walled offices around a spectacular 12-story atrium. His Oakland Museum of Art, which opened in 1969, conceals galleries in planted terraces cascading down a hill. And his Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn., completed in 1973, is a collection of discrete concrete boxes, almost heroic in their simplicity.

Roche, who died on Friday at 96, will be remembered for those iconic buildings, and for the more than 200 other projects realized by his firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates (KRJDA). "It would be impossible to write a history of 20th-century architecture without Kevin Roche," Robert A.M. Stern said in the 2017 documentary Kevin Roche: The Quiet Architect. Roche won the Pritzker Prize in 1982 and the AIA Gold Medal in 1993.

In a more-than-70-year career designing corporate, institutional and commercial buildings, however, Roche rarely matched the heights of Wesleyan, Oakland and Ford. Reviewing a 2011 exhibition of Roche’s work, Belmont Freeman, an architect and critic, described his path from those early projects “through the increasingly gargantuan suburban corporate buildings of the 1970s and ’80s and the sometimes banal developer projects of more recent years.” At a symposium associated with the exhibition, Roche himself commented that the previous speakers “had made him feel like he had retired in 1980.”

In fact, Roche continued working almost until his death. His career included a 40-year relationship with the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Hired in 1967 to devise a master plan for the museum, he and his partner John Dinkeloo created a wide stairway in front of the building, replacing McKim, Mead & White’s narrower flight. John Morris Dixon, the longtime editor of Progressive Architecture magazine, called the new steps “one of New York’s architectural coups.” Later, the firm completed the the pyramidal Lehman Wing and the glass-walled container for the Temple of Dendur, among other additions to the museum, which together nearly doubled the building’s size. New galleries for Greek and Roman art—replacing an old cafeteria—opened to rave reviews in 2007.

Some of his buildings, like the Knights of Columbus Tower in New Haven (1969), corsetted by four massive round piers, were lightning rods for criticism, and the quality of the firm’s work in recent decades was uneven. Paul Goldberger, writing in the Times, praised 1 United Nations Plaza, the hotel and office tower completed in 1976, as “an exquisite minimalist sculpture.” But Roche’s Egyptian-inspired headquarters for E.F. Hutton on West 53d Street, completed in 1987, was, according to Goldberger, “pretentious and overblown.”

Eamonn Kevin Roche himself was never either of those things. Born in Dublin in 1922, he was raised in Mitchelstown, County Cork, where, he said in the 2017 documentary, “Nobody had ever heard of an architect.” But his father, a successful farmer, asked Roche to design a pigsty, which he did. “The pigs loved it,” he recalled—and Roche was on his way.

During World War II, he earned an architecture degree from the National University of Ireland. In 1948, while working briefly for architects in Dublin and London, he saw the work of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in magazines and resolved to study at the Illinois Institute of Technology, where Mies presided. Roche arrived there in 1948 but, finding Mies “uncommunicative,” lasted only one semester.
Todd Eberle
The design force behind the furniture giant brought life to the modernist utopia that midcentury corporate America represented.

If there is such a thing as a modernist vernacular, Florence Knoll created it. The grids and planes of glass, metal, and stone out of which architects built up the standards for the offices, institutions, and dwellings of the postwar period have always remained alien to most people’s sense of daily life. That same sensibility applied to sofas, credenzas, tables, and chairs, however, has become part of the decor that surround us as many of us as we lead our daily lives. Nobody did more to install those pieces of furniture across the United States and beyond than Knoll, who passed away on Jan. 25.

Many years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the headquarters of the Connecticut General Life Insurance Co. outside of Hartford, Conn. Designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill with courtyards by Isamu Noguchi, the building as a structure was beautiful. But it really came alive through Knoll’s designs and space planning, unfolding into an environment of wood, leather, stone, and laminated plastic planes that translated the steel-and-glass frame into a work environment that looked and felt like you could be productive. Above all else, these interiors looked both efficient and comfortable. They embodied the utopia that corporate America at its peak represented.

Such total environments were among Knoll’s signal achievements, but of course the reason that we know her name and will remember her is because of the pieces: the lines of furniture she produced, originally with husband Hans Knoll. Although her designs were not the most original or even the most technically innovative—that distinction belongs to the team of designers George Nelson assembled at Herman Miller—Knoll’s work refined those achievements, as well as the prototypes created prewar at the Bauhaus, into forms that combined a sense of monumentality with a clarity of function and comfort.

As Knoll grew, the company gave work to countless other designers but kept that simple aesthetic alive. The company did, along the way, also make room for the curves and swoops of Eero Saarinen’s Tulip chair and, much later, Frank Gehry, FAIA’s bent plywood pieces, each of which did more to spread those designers’ sensibilities around the world than any of their buildings. Even in the years when their aesthetic seemed to wane, they stuck with a foursquare sense of purpose, and were lucky enough to see their commitment rewarded by a revival of interest in their lines.

That same sensibility extended to Knoll’s stores, which became beacons of good design long before Apple opened its glass cubes all around the world. Brightly lit, airy, and clearly laid out, Knoll furniture showrooms were prototypes of what our everyday environment could and should look like.

Educated at Cranbrook from high school on, Florence Knoll (born Schust, and later in life Bassett) studied with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Eliel Saarinen, among others. After starting her eponymous company with Hans in 1938—he died in an automobile accident in 1955—she kept control of it until the early 1970s, when she retired to Florida. (She might have retired from the company, but she kept designing.) As she lived to be 101, she was able to experience the complete arc of Modernism, from its explosion onto the Western European and American scene, through its dominance of much of the production of buildings and interiors after the Second World War, onto its later decline, and then upwards with its revival.

For all that, Knoll’s contributions to the world of modernist interiors had its limits. The furniture is and always was expensive, and the space planning and design Knoll performed was generally commissioned only by large corporations. The vernacular was thus an upper-middle-class one. Though Knoll might have inspired countless knockoffs, all the way down (or up) to IKEA, owning a piece of Knoll furniture remained a status symbol that showed
Florence Knoll Bassett, the female pioneer of midcentury modern American design, has died aged 101. She passed away on 25 January in Coral Gables, Florida.

The creative force behind one of the most influential design brands of the 20th century was born in 1917 and grew up in Michigan as an orphan from the age of 12. It was an early friendship with Finnish architects, Eliel and Eero Saarinen and a firm interest in architecture from a young age that led her to enrol at Cranbrook Academy of Art where her most important design education – from the likes of Harry Bertoia took place.

After this, Knoll (then Schust) went on to learn from the great 20th-century modernist masters of design. She discovered furniture making with Eero Saarinen and Charles Eames, and after a two-year stint at London’s Architectural Association returned to America where she apprenticed for Bauhaus founders Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer in Boston. Her formal education concluded studying under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. In 1941, the ambitious young graduate headed to New York.

At this point Florence met Hans Knoll, who was at the time spearheading a new furniture company. She convinced him to let her join the firm. While he was the business brain, Florence bought her fierce design and architectural education to the brand. The pair married in 1946 and together grew the brand into a global design powerhouse. In creating the Knoll Planning Unit, Florence sowed the seeds for a revolution in the design of corporate interiors in postwar America and beyond, introducing open-plan layouts, sleek functional furniture and colourful, acoustic textiles.

In addition to commissions from her close friends, Bertoia, Mies, and Saarinen, Florence also designed for the brand. Standouts include her geometric and modern 45" x 22" coffee table, which is built following her rational design ethos, and her midcentury modern lounge chair and sofa from 1954. Although these were groundbreaking designs, Florence was quite self-deprecating, referring to her furniture designs as the ‘meat and potatoes’ filler among the standout pieces by her male counterparts, Bertoia, Mies, and Saarinen.