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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Woven Images: From the Bauhaus Weaving Workshop to the Knoll Textile Division

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License

In 1938 German émigré Hans Knoll set up Factory No. 1 in New York City, Selling Scandinavian-inspired furniture to a small but growing crowd of American architects serving the new corporate American client. By chance, the small-scale manufacturer met an ambitious young architect and the pair joined forces to expand into one of the most successful furniture, textiles, and interior design planning companies in American history, a company that achieved widespread success by midcentury. The architect’s name was Florence Schust, and she would eventually be recognized as one of the most influential figures in postwar American architecture and design. From 1946 to 1965, Florence directed all creative efforts at Knoll Associates, including a planning unit that designed interiors and a textile division that served the planning unit by providing original materials for upholstery and drapery, and later offered cut yardage to the trade. Her textile division in New York operated like a mini-Bauhaus, with architects, weavers, and graphic designers all contributing towards the ultimate goals of producing eye-catching architectural materials for mass production. But unlike the Bauhaus in the twenties and thirties, this midcentury workshop democratized the arts through the production of a single material. Rather than being considered, as it was historically, ‘women’s work,’ textile work occupied a highly visible position within Knoll Associates. Prominently featured within furniture exhibitions, architectural magazine advertisements, and high-profile corporate interior’s projects, textiles functioned on multiple levels as architectural material and graphic surface. At a time when the modernist aesthetic was considered to be radical in America—not yet classic or ubiquitous—Florence Knoll took all of her modernist architectural training and applied it to the design direction of her furniture, textiles, and planning company. Through a close reading of a key commissioned interiors project and primary materials from 1946- 1965—when Florence Knoll was active creative director and the president in 1955—my study re-frames textiles as critical, rather than ancillary, to the reception of modern architecture in postwar America.

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