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Adam Jason Cohen and Knoll Explore the Parallels Between Skateboarding and Bauhaus Design

"Skateboarding depends almost solely on good architecture," says photographer Adam Jason Cohen. That dependence on strong, sculptural form (think the smooth incline of a perfect concrete bowl, the perfectly kinky slope of a rail, the just-so lip of a


  • Jun 24 2024
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Adam Jason Cohen and Knoll Explore the Parallels Between Skateboarding and Bauhaus Design
Adam Jason Cohen and Knoll Explore the Parallels Between Skateboarding and Bauhaus Design

"Skateboarding depends almost solely on good architecture," says photographer Adam Jason Cohen. That dependence on strong, sculptural form (think the smooth incline of a perfect concrete bowl, the perfectly kinky slope of a rail, the just-so lip of a ledge) is what led him to base his latest photographic campaign, which spotlights the biggest Bauhaus icons in the Knoll archive, around some of greater Los Angeles' most famous skate spots, including the legendary Venice Beach Skatepark.

Cohen notes that the level of scrutiny and precision present in a proper skate spot provides a clear parallel to the artistry-meets-function ethos that drove the influential Bauhaus movement. And though this project was one of combined passions for him as a lifelong skateboarder and design fan, it was for a specific purpose too, as Knoll is reimagining some of its most famous Bauhaus designs as part of a "contemporary reframing" of the movement's ideals, and tapped Cohen — who, besides having worked with the brand before, has also shot for Arc'Teryx, adidas and Nike — to communicate that ethos visually.

The new collection reimagines some of Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer's most famous designs. van der Rohe's MR Chair and MR Table, along with Breuer's Wassily Chair, Laccio Table, Cesca Chair and Cesca Stool, have been presented in white, black, and extra-special dark red color schemes, all of which have roots in the Bauhaus institution. The tonal, fully saturated white and black schemes do away with the movement's signature cold silver steel in favor of a monochromatic look that nods to Bauhaus designers' appreciation for reflected or absorbed light, enhanced geometric forms and defined edges; while the dark red, done up in an ultra-matte finish, was offered on the MR chair almost 100 years ago.

"Through artful juxtaposition, we aim to highlight the contemporary POV on classic Bauhaus design that the new color update represents," says Suzanne Michaels, Knoll's senior director of brand creative. Below, Michels and Cohen discuss the shoot's inspiration, the parallels between design and skateboarding, and the challenge of balancing timeless items with a contemporary feel.

knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table
knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table

What drew you to shoot these pieces at the Venice Beach skatepark?

Suzanne Michaels: The photo and video shoot spanned four locations across Los Angeles, including the Venice Beach skatepark and a commercial plaza in Koreatown that’s well known by skateboarders for its curves and slopes. All of these locations speak the same Bauhaus-rooted language—curves, concrete, tubular steel—and present beautiful opportunities to reflect the form and geometry of the furniture.

The pieces in this new release are not just furniture; they are works of art held in collections of museums worldwide. We aimed to create a campaign that respects the furniture, its designers, and the community of design fans who—like us—will be stoked to see these nearly 100-year-old icons through an entirely new lens.

The shoot takes iconic Bauhaus designs from their original context and introduces them into spaces they wouldn’t usually be seen in. What’s the impetus behind this ethos and what do you hope to communicate by doing it?

SM: Like the color update itself, the campaign concept is a contemporary reframing of iconic Bauhaus-era design. It sees celebrated pieces by Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer through a new lens, placing them in abstract urban environments that reflect Bauhaus ideals — industrial materials like concrete, tubular steel, and glass; architectural language like slab concrete and curves. Through artful juxtaposition, we aim to highlight the contemporary POV on classic Bauhaus design that the new color update represents.

knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table
knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table
knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table

What do you think makes these designs so timeless — and so versatile? Do those qualities come out when you’re shooting them?

Adam Jason Cohen: Almost every night, I watch a film on my television that was manufactured last year, and the piece of furniture I’m sitting on is seventy-five years old. Some of the chairs we highlighted in this campaign are nearly a century old, and thinking about that in a world where we buy new phones or cars every couple of years is astounding. The way these objects sit in a vacuum, the first thing that comes to mind is their timelessness. What I thought was challenging was keeping that timeless sentiment but also making sure the objects were living in the now, maintaining relevance.

Do you think there’s a conversation to be had about how introducing these pieces into different spaces, like the Venice Beach skatepark, can pique the interest of a different demographic that may not already be interested in furniture?

SM: I think we are speaking to people who value design and are likely familiar with the original furniture pieces. But this work taps into a resurgence of passion for Bauhaus design — specifically the tubular steel furniture pioneered by Breuer and Mies — that we’re seeing in a new generation of design fans.

The concept shows the furniture in our present-day built environment side-by-side with photography of the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany — its geometries, colors, and materials. On one hand, the collection’s design roots are clear; on the other, the new color update propels it to present day.

knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table
knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table
knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table

Concrete skateparks like Venice Beach and chairs like the Wassily and MR have some similarities: they invoke a sense of flow, but have sharp, instantly recognizable angles. Was that a through line you always had in mind when conceptualizing the shoot?

AJC: I was naturally excited when Knoll approached me about the concept. Although I’m rarely on the board, if ever these days, I’ve spent almost two decades of my life pushing. Skateboarding depends almost solely on good architecture, whether a purpose-built skatepark or an urban plaza. The Knoll Bauhaus collection is dominated by Mies van der Rohe’s and Marcel Breur’s designs, both of whom also happen to be juggernauts in architectural design. Shooting their objects in the context of skate spots and skateparks made sense to me, as both the objects and the spaces require intense scrutiny and precision in their design: the angles, transition, coping, etc. The end product in each case is something unique with maximum functionality.

Do you see any other parallels between furniture and skating?

AJC: What I really think is wonderful about a good piece of furniture and skateboarding is that both are great vehicles for meditation and slowing your mind down. Skateboarding is next to impossible when your mind is going a mile a minute. If you're mentally elsewhere, good luck landing a trick. Skateboarding taught me how to slow down and focus. I’d like to think a good piece of furniture can do the same. Time moves a bit differently when all of your senses are being satisfied.

What was the most challenging — and the most fun — thing about this shoot?

AJC: I often photograph or direct people and I wanted to make sure to include elements of movement, which, for a chair, isn’t the easiest thing to do. From a technical standpoint, skateboarding is often shot with an extreme fisheye lens, sometimes referred to as a “death lens.” It distorts the sense of scale and it gives life to the subject. Luckily, I own one for my Contax 645 and was able to use it often on this shoot. Suspending the Laccio tables in air and shooting them reminded me of Grant Taylor blasting a backside air five feet over the coping. Telling the Knoll team on set that we were going to pivot and that we needed some high-pound-test fishing line to hang some tables and chairs from a crossbar attached to two C-stands was a pretty fun experience. Shout out to Nick Kartes for being a rigging genius and to the Knoll team for trusting us.

knoll bauhaus era new colors photo campaign venice beach skatepark adam jason cohen suzanne michaels interview conversation release dates prices info mr chair table wassily chair cesca stools laccio table


The pieces from this collection are available via the Knoll webstore and authorized Knoll dealers now. Prices range from $730-$5,464 USD

Click here to view full gallery at Hypebeast

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