George Nelson (1908-1986) is considered one of the most influential figures on the 20th-century art scene. During his long career, he was interested in architecture, urban planning, interior design, graphic design, product design and writing, adopting an eclectic and unconventional approach. After graduating from Yale University in 1928, Nelson enrolled in a two-year degree course in Fine Arts. In 1932, he won the prestigious Rome Prize. The scholarship allowed him to study architecture at the American Academy in Rome and travel around Europe for two years. His interviews with the key Modern Movement figures like Mies Van de Rohe, Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier and Gio Ponti date to this period.
Returning to the United States in 1935, he decided to work as a journalist for architectural magazines. He published several books, including the famous "Tomorrow's house" (1945), co-written with his colleague Henry Wright. In the book, Nelson developed the concept of the Storagewall, at the time a revolutionary solution, which consisted of walls with modular and flexible 30 cm deep cupboards. At the same time, the founder of Herman Miller Furniture, D.J. DePree, was looking for a new design director. After reading an article in Life magazine about the Storagewall system, he contacted George Nelson, who accepted the job, albeit against his will. In fact, a career in design never appealed to the creative who was more inclined towards theoretical activity. Yet some of his designs have become undisputed icons, still produced and marketed by Herman Miller and Vitra.
Nelson's approach was based on the concept of "total design in relation to the whole" and on the centrality of user needs. His most popular products include the Nelson Bench (1946), the Coconut leather armchair inspired by the coconut shell (1955), and the Home Desk (1958), an elegant and functional desk with the classic laminate and oak veneer finishes of the era. As art director of Herman Miller, George Nelson contributed to the company's growth and prestige, working alongside such designers as Charles and Ray Eames, Alexander Girard, Isamu Noguchi and Robert Propst. Parallel to his work with Herman Miller, which lasted until 1972, Nelson continued as an independent designer and architect, founding his own studio in New York in 1947, which became George Nelson Associates, Inc. in 1955. One of the most exciting commissions that engaged the studio saw the designer create a series of clocks characterised by an innovative style and the absence of numbers. The collection consists of wall and floor clocks in different materials, shapes and colours, produced in hundreds of variations since 1947. Today, the Wall Clocks collection is produced and marketed by Vitra since the Vitra Design Museum acquired the designer's archive. George Nelson died in New York in 1986.
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