David Adjaye isn’t the first design professional to venture into furniture design—with a focus on chairs, no less. But in his inaugural line for Knoll, the British architect reexamines utilitarian seating with an eye-catching duo that get their signature shape from an architectural cantilever and lattice-like geometry.
The Washington Collection’s Skeleton chair features a perforated frame made of die-cast aluminum. A study in contrast, the collection’s Skin chair applies the same pattern in an envelope of reinforced nylon. Both launched Oct. 1. “When you look more closely, you see that one is the skeleton and one is the muscle,” Adjaye told the Financial Times last month of the pieces’ materiality.
Skeleton’s gaps do more than just contrast Skin’s cohesive form—they also play with light to cast its pattern across the floor. Knoll’s executive vice-president for design, Benjamin Pardo, told Fast Company that he pegged Adjaye for the new collection because of his reputation for combining dissimilar materials into innovative constructions. Skeleton, Pardo says, “becomes a whole other chair when the light is coming through.”
Mortise-and-tenon construction connects the chairs’ seat and legs to achieve the deep cantilever. Skeleton is offered in black, green, or gray powder coats as well as a natural copper plating that will patina over time. Skin is available in seven colors that resist fading. Both can be used outdoors and are Greenguard-certified for indoor air quality.
Bold plays with material are prevalent in Adjaye’s work. At the 42,000-square-foot National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which is scheduled for completion in 2015, bronze-coated aluminum cladding will diffuse light while giving the building its crown-like form. It will also contrast the light-colored marble and granite of its neighboring museums and memorials on the National Mall. Adjaye’s eponymous firm joins the Freelon Group, Davis Brody Bond, and SmithGroup as project architects.
In a profile of the project in the New Yorker last month, Adjaye elaborated on the design. “[It] was something we adapted, through many prototypes, from the ornamental metal castings that were done by slaves and former slaves in Charleston and New Orleans before and after the Civil War—using techniques that had been developed much earlier in Benin and other African cultures,” Adjaye said. “In some panels, the pattern is denser than in others. I want the light to be articulated, so the east side of the building has one kind of light and the south side has another—a continuous dappling light.”
For his inaugural furniture line, which has the design community’s attention, Adjaye also designed a cast-bronze sculptural coffee table for the collection, of which the company says it will limit production to 75 models. A club chair, ottoman, and side table will be added to the collection in early 2014. Knoll, knoll.com