Architect and designer Florence Knoll Bassett (formerly Schust) has had a profound influence on more than 50 years of buildings' interiors. An early protégée of Eero Saarinen, whom she met while studying at the Kingswood School on the campus of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, "Shu" (the nickname by which she's popularly known) went on to study architecture at Cranbrook. From there, she earned degrees at the Architectural Association in London and the Armour Institute (Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago). While in Chicago, Shu studied with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe for what she calls, "a very valuable year." She worked briefly in Boston for Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer, and while working in New York for Wallace K. Harrison, Shu met Hans Knoll who asked her to design an office for Secretary of War, Henry L. Stimson. Additional jobs with Hans Knoll followed, and in 1946, Shu and Hans married and formed Knoll Associates, Inc.
Shu is famous for her philosophy of "total design," and as the director of the Knoll Planning Unit she revolutionized interior space planning. Her approach of embracing everything about a space – architecture, interior design, graphics, textiles and manufacturing – was not the standard mid-century practice in space planning, but it caught on and continues to be the standard today. Shu was also a furniture designer, as well as a great eye for talent. It was under her leadership that many of the modern masters created collections for Knoll. These legacies include Eero Saarinen's Tulip™ chairs and pedestal tables, Isamu Noguchi's coffee table and Harry Bertoia's wire furniture.
In 2002, Florence Knoll Bassett was accorded the National Endowment for the Arts' prestigious National Medal of Arts.