Honorary Degree Recipient
FLORENCE KNOLL BASSETT
Doctor of Letters
Interior space planner and designer Florence Knoll Bassett is recognized worldwide as one of the principals of the 20th century’s modern movement in architecture and interior design. Known as “Shu” by her design colleagues and friends, Florence Knoll Bassett introduced the world to a groundbreaking genre of furniture design.
Bassett began studying architecture at the tender age of 15, while a student at the Kingswood School on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Among her early and most influential mentors are architect Eliel Saarinen, developer and president of Cranbrook, and architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, designer of the Seagram Building in New York City and director of architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology.
A student of the Architectural Association in London and a graduate of the architecture program at Illinois Institute of Technology, Bassett began her career as an architectural draftsman and designer at Gropius & Breuer in Boston. Her first husband Hans Knoll hired her as director of interior design in a division that evolved into Knoll International, the office furniture designer and manufacturer where Bassett made her mark as a leader in modern design. In addition to bringing the furniture designs of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Marcel Breuer and Eero Saarinen to popularity, Bassett is credited as setting Knoll International on the path to prominence. In addition to the company’s unparalleled success, her tenure there produced such legacies as the interiors of Connecticut General Life Insurance in Bloomington, Connecticut, and CBS headquarters in New York City.
Bassett is President and Chairperson of the Bassett Foundation, which was established by her late second husband, Harry Hood Bassett. A strong advocate for conserving farmland, the Bassetts donated the development rights to their Vermont farm to the American Farmland Trust. As part-time Vermont residents, Florence and Hood Bassett generously supported facilities at the University of Vermont, including the Flow Cytometry Facility at the UVM College of Medicine and the Proctor Maple Research Center.
Bassett was inducted into the Interior Design Magazine Hall of Fame in 1985. In 2000, she donated her papers to the Smithsonian Institution’s Archives of American Art. Her career archive – described by Metropolis magazine as “a revelation” – was a work of art in itself. In 2003, her contributions to modern design earned her the honor of the 2002 National Medal of Arts – the highest award given to artists and arts patrons by the United States government. No doubt, Florence Knoll Bassett will continue to inspire innovation in interior design for generations to come.