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Isokon


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Wells Wintemute Coates (1895—1958) architect and industrial designer

CIAM

Marcel Breuer (1902—1981)

Walter Gropius (1883—1969) German-born American architect

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(established 1931)

This British design firm represented a significant attempt to harness the spirit of Modernism as represented by progressive designers in France and Germany to housing and furniture design. The name of the company derived from the term ‘Isometric Unit Construction’, in effect a modular means of construction. The formation of the company stemmed from an association between Jack Pritchard of the Venesta Plywood Company and the designer and architect Wells Coates. This modular system was first explored in the concrete Lawn Road Flats complex in Hampstead, London (completed in 1934) where Coates incorporated ideas of ‘minimum living’ into the kitchens and bathrooms of the apartments, a concept that had been broached in American Christine Frederick's influential text Scientific Management in the Home (1915), had been given tangible form in Margarete Schütte‐Lihotsky's ‘Frankfurt Kitchen’ of 1924, and had been a theme discussed extensively at the 1929 Congrès Internationaux d'Architecture Moderne (CIAM). Wells Coates showed a ‘Minimum Flat’, based on the Lawn Roads Flats, at the 1933 Dorland Hall Industrial Art in Relation to the Home Exhibition of 1933. The Lawn Road Flats attracted a number of key figures from the design and architecture world, notably Walter Gropius, Marcel Breuer, and László Moholy‐Nagy, all of whom worked for the Isokon Furniture Company, as well as others such as the crime novelist Agatha Christie. In 1932 Pritchard and Coates began designing furniture, much of it in laminated plywood, Coates's early designs including modular shelving units manufactured by Venesta. This idea was developed further with the establishment in 1935 of the Isokon Furniture Company to which Gropius was appointed Controller of Design. The company presented a progressive visual identity from the graphics by Moholy‐Nagy, furniture by Breuer (including a chaise longue and a nest of tables) and Gropius (including an aluminium wastepaper basket). Breuer's chaise longue showed the influence of Finnish designer Alvar Aalto, whose work had been shown in London in the previous year. However, although Breuer's design not did prove to be a best‐seller, it was widely influential. The Isokon Furniture Company also sold the products of other companies with a progressive design policy, including PEL and Finmar. Although Gropius and Breuer moved to the United States in 1937 Isokon continued production until the outbreak of the Second World War, with designs by an Austrian immigrant, Egon Riis. These included the Isokon Penguin Donkey bookrack and the Bottleship. Isokon did not resume furniture production until 1963 when Ernest Race's redesign of these two items were marketed once more.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.


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