Florence Knoll created furniture for Planning Unit projects in order to solve the design problems she encountered in spatial planning. After her retirement, Knoll continued this tradition of innovation, ideating products for clients to look towards the future of the workplace. In 1971, Charles Pfister of architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill worked with Bill Stephens, Director of the Knoll Design and Development Group, to develop a new system for the Weyerhaeuser Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington. The result was the Stephens System – Knoll’s first panel-based system. In an online essay published on Medium, SOM looks back on the corporate campus.
Exterior of the SOM-designed Weyerhauser Headquarters in Federal Way, Washington.
SOM highlights its collaboration with Knoll in the design and development of the corporate campus. Together, the two companies implemented one of the country’s first-ever interior open office plans. “Knoll helped develop a system of dividers and modular furniture that could create enclaves of collaboration or privacy, depending on what different teams within the company required,” writes SOM.
The Stephens System in the Weyerhauser Headquarters.
The Weyerhaeuser Headquarters was ahead of its time in more ways than not. It is an early example of corporate sustainability in architecture, designed to coexist with its surrounding natural environment. In addition, the campus was concieved to improve the quality of living and working for its employees, integrating a cafeteria, library, barber shop and gym. “Embedded into every aspect of the design concept was the desire to elevate the everyday experience of Weyerhaeuser employees,” writes SOM. “The palatial scale and stunning beauty of the campus was meant to be enjoyed by all – an unusually egalitarian gesture for a mid-century corporate office building.” This design ethos foreshadowed and influenced the corporate campuses of tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Apple.