Project ARO (Architecture Research Office)
Photo Elizabeth Felicella
Texts Alessandro Rocca, Cristina Morozzi

The company tha t first introduced modern design in America, 75 years ago, now takes an important architectural step forward, occupying the corner of a historic building at 54th Street and 6th Avenue in New York, for its first monobrand store.

An investment of 6.5 million dollars to transform 4000 m2 on Avenue of the Americas, in the heart of Midtown Manhattan, near the MoMA, halfway between Rockefeller Center and Central Park, into the “Knoll Flagship Showroom Offices and Shop”: a strategic project that represents the philosophy of the venerable American firm. The new flagship store is above all a prestigious showcase in the center of New York, but it is also a thematic interior of the world of Knoll, with furnishings, fabrics and displays that form a figurative system of great visual impact, for immediate recognition. Every color and detail links back to the modernist heritage, represented by the proud motto “Modern Always,” but with the softer accents of today’s production. The constant seems to be the balance, typical of Knoll, between technology and sensuality, modern materials and sinuous Deco gentility. In the historic catalogue, European masterpieces with a Bauhaus matrix like the iconic Wassily armchair by Marcel Breuer, and the Barcelona by Mies van der Rohe, are joined by the softer and more seductive American modernism of Eero Saarinen, with the Womb chair and the timeless Tulip models, with chassis suspended on a slender stem like an overturned tulip, and the brilliant steel mesh seat, the Diamond Chair by Harry Bertoia, another successful combination between art and technique, or more precisely between poetry and metallurgy. The flagship store is organized, logically enough, in a sequence of gradually less accessible spaces. On the ground level a window projects the logo, the famous white letters on an orange field, entirely covering one of the internal walls. The window also reveals the space of the store, making it visible from the s treet, with oak floors, colored curtains and f abrics, for a welcoming, domestic look. The staircase leads to the showroom on the upper level, and is treated like an important passage for the communication of the brand, designed with a choreographic intent, displaying materials, spaces and furnishings in a direct, stimulating way. On the showroom level the spectacular feature is a large wall display, over 16 meters long, presenting 2400 samples of materials and colors used by Knoll, creating an abstract, variegated work that is perfectly in line with the identity of the company. Two staircases in black steel, surrounded by samples of felt and cowhide of the brands Filzfelt and Spinneybeck, lead to the top level, containing the sales, marketing, design and management offices. These spaces too are designed like a small catalogue of open zones, private offices and areas for activities that can help clients to find new ideas and design solutions. (Alessandro Rocca)

An italian at the helm

To reinforce the position of the Knoll brand in Europe, Andrew Cogan, CEO of Knoll Inc., has chosen Demetrio Apolloni as the firm’s president in Europe, in the belief that a correct approach to the Euro market requires management with operative roots in that territory. After many years, an Italian returns to the helm of the historic American company, with ambitious projects. Not just in economic terms, but also through a cultural vision of products, thanks to Apolloni’s experience in the domestic design sector. His goal is to match market share to brand value. After a debut with Vitra (1990-93), Apolloni gained precious experience, guiding important Italian companies: B&B Italia (1993-96), then Driade (1997-2000), Maxalto (2000-02), president of B&B USA (2002-06), then at Gruppo Charme (2006-08), where for Cassina he worked as general director and was in charge of product development, and finally for four years at Kartell, in the role of managing director. In a moment in which many companies are shifting their production to foreign countries, his choice for Knoll is to wager on the peerless quality of Italian manufacturing: so he is reinforcing the production plant at Foligno, formerly of Gavina, and the factory at Graffignana (Lodi), while concentrating new product development in Brianza, to take advantage of that region’s great network of expertise. Another strategic decision is the return, starting last year, of Knoll to the Salone del Mobile. “To give Knoll products a more residential image,” Demetrio says, “we have gone back to the roots, starting with the productions of Florence Knoll, who designed a number of private homes. Thanks to collaboration with Knoll US and Benjamin Pardo, design director, we have recovered old projects by Florence Knoll used to furnishing residences. Now we are working on the Relax versions of the Florence Knoll collection and Barcelona, on the reissue of the Bastiano sofa in collaboration with Tobia Scarpa (who designed it in 1962), researching the most timely colors and materials. At the same time, we want to emphasize our contemporary character, with projects by great talents like Rem Koolhaas, David Adjaye, Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, to widen our production to all types of modern furnishings, for both the home and the office, because these two sectors have always been part of our cultural vision and commercial strategy.” Apolloni, guiding this new project, knows he has a good launching pad, and counts on traveling far. He also knows the effort required will be far from negligible, given the importance and fame of the catalogue, which contains some unrivalled icons of modern design, like the collections of Mies van der Rohe, Harry Bertoia, Eero Saarinen and Richard Schultz. Apolloni loves a challenge and recognizes the importance of consolidating the residential side of Knoll in Europe, because with respect to the office sector it is the area that guarantees the most constant return in terms of image, which then benefits all the other products of the brand. So he is planning to press the accelerator to the floor. His declarations of intent offer a glimpse of an interesting business model: to globalize without losing a connection to the past, to innovate while conserving tradition, to ‘soften’ without compromising on iconic value. (Cristina Morozzi)