American company Steelcase used archival designs by architect Frank Lloyd Wright to create the Racine Collection, a line of office furniture.
Steelcases’ furniture line, which includes desks and chairs, was named the Racine Collection after the city where Wright built SC Johnson’s headquarters in 1939. The building housed the original versions of the furniture, also made by Steelcase.
Working closely with the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation – the primary repository of the American architect’s archive – Steelcase developed the new designs over a two-year period, following closely the original.
During Wright’s 70-year career, in which he was instrumental in shaping modern architecture, he left behind thousands of designs and plans for buildings and furniture.
“Fortunately, Wright left us a guide,” Stuart Graff, CEO of the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, told Dezeen. “Wright wanted people to embrace the principles and show what they were capable of.”
The first items in the collection include desks, office chairs and lounges, all distilled from the designs of the SC Johnson building.
The desks and chairs underwent a number of modifications, most notably an increase in size, as Steelcase found that only 20 percent of American men had legroom in the original design.
The iconic three-legged chairs have also been converted to four legs for stability.
Even small details, such as switching the spring-loaded drawers in the desks to magnets, have been implemented. Otherwise, the basic structure of the designs remains true to the original.
“We have a shared commitment to excellence,” Meghan Dean, Steelcase’s general manager of partnerships, told Dezeen.
“But it was important to have a dialogue with the foundation and say, ‘Hey, we have a better way’ without detracting from the original.”
Using a palette derived from a photo of Wright’s pencil set, the collection will come in a variety of different colors, including an all-black series. Another option includes the walnut and racine red configuration of the original designs.
Graff said the collection shouldn’t be seen as a remake, but rather a “reinterpretation” of the originals.
“The legacy is a living thing, not a retrospective art collection,” he told Dezeen, adding that this was a departure from the foundation’s previous collaborations.
“In the past the Foundation has been more interested in slavish reproductions and has not given freedom to replicate.”
Graff and Dean also noted that this first iteration is “just the beginning” of the collaboration, and the team hopes to draw on Wright’s vast archive to continue reinventing the original designs.
When asked why the foundation is reinventing these designs now, nearly a hundred years later, Graff said it stems from a need to “come back” to the principles of Wright’s work.
“We’ve seen a lot of design that draws attention but doesn’t relate to the world around it,” he said.
Architects and designers around the world have an enduring fascination with Wright’s designs. Last week, Dezeen released the work of architect David Romero, who uses computer software to create renderings of buildings Wright designed but never built.
Other brands have launched their own iterations of Wright’s furniture, including Cassina in 2018, which released a re-launch of the Taliesin 1 armchair.