Remembering Richard Sapper

Knoll honors the life and legacy of the Munich-born industrial designer


We are saddened to report the passing of Richard Sapper (1932-2015), the acclaimed industrial designer remembered at Knoll for his 1979 Sapper Executive™ and Management™ Chair and his 2009 Sapper™ Monitor Arm. Sapper died this New Year’s Eve: December 31, 2015. He was 83 years old.

Richard Sapper was one of the most influential industrial designers of his generation. As detailed in a forthcoming monograph written and edited by Knoll designer Jonathan Olivares to be published by Phaidon in 2016, Sapper began his career working in the design department at Mercedes-Benz before joining Gio Ponti’s architectural firm in Milan.

In 1959, he entered into a professional working relationship with Marco Zanuso, which resulted in the first of his breakthrough designs. The two worked together as consultants for the Italian electronics company Brionvega, and their collaboration gave birth a movement known as “techno-functionalism.” The aesthetic was characterized by an approach more so than a style, and became synonymous with two of their most well-respected designs for the company: the TS502 radio and Doney 14 transistor television set.

The success of those two products led Sapper to collaborate with other notable companies: Siemens, Kartell, Knoll, Alessi, Artemide, Tag Heuer and IBM. Although Sapper worked across multiple industries, pioneering use, visual elegance and market accessibility have always remained hallmarks of his approach to design.

Sketch and prototype for the Sapper™ Management Chair for Knoll, 1979 by Richard Sapper. Images from the Knoll Archive.

In 1978, while working simultaneously as a design consultant for Knoll and Fiat, the Italian car manufacturer, Sapper adapted a metal bumper to form a makeshift frame for an office chair. What became the Sapper™ Executive Chair and Management Chair was conceived as a solution to the problem of “imposed seating,” which forces the sitter to accept a single, preconceived posture. Instead, Sapper made the chair “[more] generously proportioned with wide, flat seating and supporting surfaces than molded or rigid contours.” Both iterations of the design became staples of the boardrooms and executive offices in the 1980s.

The Sapper™ Executive Chair for Knoll, 1979 by Richard Sapper. Image from the Knoll Archive.

Sapper returned to Knoll in 2007. Tasked with designing a monitor arm system that facilitated numerous potential configurations, Sapper created an equally efficient and adaptable kinetic arm that responds to the user’s configuration needs with minimal effort.

  The Sapper™ Monitor Arm for Knoll, 2007 by Richard Sapper. Photograph by Jens Mortensen.

Up until his death in 2015, Sapper remained committed to design education. He held posts at Yale University in New Haven, the Royal College of Art in London, the Central Academy for Art and Design in Beijing and Domus Academie in Milan. Among the many accolades that he received over the course of his life, Sapper was the recipient of the prestigious Compasso d’Oro Award, The Lucky Strike Award from The Raymond Loewry Foundation and the Lifetime Achievement Award from The German Design Council. Fifteen of his designs are housed in the permanent collection of MoMA with others represented by international museums, including London’s Victoria and Albert Design Museum.

Ron Snyder, Richard Sapper and Benjamin Pardo working on the Sapper™ Monitor Arm. Image from the Knoll Archive.

Richard Sapper: On Design


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