Florence Knoll, born in 1917 was a protege of Eero Saarinen, the Finnish American archtiect and industrial designer of the 20th century, renowned for a design style tempered to the demands of a project. After studying architecture at Cranbrook, the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago). Her career included short assignments working for Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer and Wallace K. Harrison.
She formed her own business, Knoll Associates, with her husband and design partner, Hans Knoll, in 1946. Her philosophy and architectural expertise earned her becoming a champion of world-class architects and designers, due to her concept of “total design”, which lives on and is widely used today. The concept included an embrace of architecture, manufacturing, interior design, textiles, graphics, advertising and presentation along with an application of design principles to solve space problems, which was an entirely different approach during the ‘50s. The couple built a furniture factory in Pennsylvania, and added dealers of Knoll’s furniture over the next several years.
Knoll oversaw the development of The Planning Unit, intended to blend space and its contents for the modern office space – by creating an inhabitable and responsive environment to every day needs of living and working. Furniture choices, textured fabrics and a vibrant color palette became what is known as the “Knoll look”: primary colors used against black, white and beige. These elements addressed a simple desire for comfort, texture and color. She and the Planning unit influenced the way the American office environment would begin to look like – departing from traditional heavily carved mahogany furniture with more modern and lighter designs. Boat-shaped conference tables allowed people to see one another, a more inviting environment for group discussions; in addition, placement of an executive’s desk along straight angles vs. the traditional diagonal fostered a communal, open office space.
The open plan workstations are considered one of her largest contributions to office space design, as the concept offered the advantage of cost and flexibility, vs. individual private offices, a design which continues to be visible today.