Celebrating the Legacy of Women in Design During Women’s History Month

March 1, 2019
To commemorate Women’s History Month, i+s devotes our March issue to the contributions women have made in the world of design.

It’s impossible to neatly encapsulate the contributions women have made to history, culture and society in this brief space, in a magazine or even in a volume of books. But as we celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day this March, we certainly want to honor the legacy that women have left us, particularly in the design industry—which is exactly what we aimed to do in our March issue.

Photography courtesy of Perkins Eastman

Any tribute to women in design wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t include the work of the icon Florence Knoll Basset, who we were saddened to learn passed away at the age of 101 in Coral Gables, Fla. earlier this year (see March’s Product Evolution). As a pioneering woman in design, Knoll Bassett founded the design firm Knoll Associates, which she ran for many years with her husband, Hans Knoll, in the early 1940s, and later, Knoll Textiles. During her years at Knoll Associates, she helped shape the company with key developments that include the establishment of the Knoll Planning Unit, which set the standard for the mid-century Modern interior.

Her impact is still felt in the design of corporate offices today. Her firm’s signature “total design” approach favored open work spaces over private offices and furniture that accommodated group discussions, often replacing traditional, heavy pieces with lighter designs. “Through the Planning Unit and her exacting designs, she helped define American Modernism and set a precedent for design that is holistic rather than object-focused,” David E. Bright, a spokesperson for Knoll, said after her passing.

Similarly, Mary-Jean Eastman, vice chairman and co-founder of Perkins Eastman, broke new ground (and the glass ceiling above her head) as one of very few women who have occupied positions of leadership in architecture firms.

Well before equality was even considered a possibility in this field, Eastman forged her own path to success in a male-dominated industry and left an indelible mark on the built environment in the process (see March’s Profile). People like her and the cadre of women in leadership at the global firm of her namesake have helped pave the way for the next generation of female architects, who make up nearly half of the graduates with architecture degrees today.

We’d also be remiss if we didn’t make mention of the 25th anniversary and special partnership between textile suppliers Designtex and Crypton, who have teamed up once again to introduce a new collection that pays homage to art, design, technology, as well as two innovative, female leaders in the contract textile industry (see March’s Collaboration). The 5x5 collection features five contemporary artists from around the world, whose work is translated into five digitally printed Crypton patterns.

While the visual impact of this collection is outstanding, the inspiration behind the collection adds even more interest. 5x5 is a celebration of these companies and the women behind them—Susan Lyons, president of Designtex, and Randy Rubin, co-founder of Crypton—two innovative veterans in the industry who share a rich and successful history. Under their leadership, both Crypton and Designtex have had a tremendous impact on contract textiles and contract design as a whole. This collection reflects their shared commitment to design, to the needs of the industry, to innovation and to performance that perfectly reflects their partnership. 

While we’ve devoted our March issue to women and the invaluable contributions they’ve made to the world of interior design, it’s also not only about women—it’s about more than that. As Kay Sargent, senior principal and director of workplace at HOK, reminds us in her upcoming ASID column: “Respect everyone. This isn’t just about women. It’s about respecting what each and every one of us brings to the table and realizing that diversity drives innovation, and we are all better together.”

Check back throughout the month for continued updates on Women's History Month.

Next: LMNOP Provides Supportive Community for Architecture and Design Professionals in NYC

About the Author

Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of Architectural Products, BUILDINGS and i+s, sister publications of Smart Buildings Technology. He is an award-winning writer with more than 20 years of experience reporting on the architecture and design industry.

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