Cranbrook Mourns the Loss of Ken Isaacs

Ken Isaacs in his Superchair, circa 1960s.

Bloomfield Hills, Mich., June 14, 2016 – Cranbrook Academy of Art and Art Museum mourns the loss of Ken Isaacs, head of the Design Department at Cranbrook Academy of Art from 1956 through 1958 and a 1954 graduate of the program.

Isaacs is best known for his Living Structures—handmade, knock-down, multifunctional furniture and architectural units that challenged ideas of how users could sit, work, and live within their own homes and the broader built environment. Isaacs radically deconstructed conventional notions of modernism, devoting his career to reimagining furniture as a system that “adjust[ed] to people rather than people to it.”

While enrolled as a graduate student at Cranbrook, Isaacs developed his Matrix System, a network of grids that expanded and retracted in scale to create unitary architectural dwellings, modular living units, as well as smaller individual furnishings. This system would endure in the designer’s practice for the remainder of his professional life, informing his designs for furniture such as his Superchair, as well as his epoch Knowledge Box.

In 2014, Cranbrook Art Museum mounted a survey of Ken’s work, Culture Breakers: The Living Structures of Ken Isaacs, curated by Shelley Selim, the Jeanne and Ralph Graham Assistant Curator.

Isaacs also taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Illinois Institute of Technology, and the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture. He was the author of books such as “Culture Breakers, Alternatives and Other Numbers” (1970) and “How to Build Your Own Living Structures” (1974), a DIY manual that has witnessed renewed interest in recent years. Isaacs also served as a contributing editor of Popular Science magazine from 1968 to 1972.

Ken Isaacs’ Knowledge Box, a room-size chamber with slide projections on the walls, ceiling, and floor that was once featured on the cover of Life magazine can be seen in the exhibition, Hippie Modernism: The Struggle for Utopia, on display at Cranbrook Art Museum from June 18 through October 9, 2016.

Art Museum Director and Curator of the exhibition Andrew Blauvelt (Design ’88), said, “Ken’s work was revolutionary, at once of the times and yet able to transcend them. Over the past decade his designs for DIY living structures have been rediscovered by a new, younger generation of artists, architects, and designers. In the best Cranbrook tradition, Ken was a true design maverick— someone whose impact we are just beginning to understand.”

In lieu of flowers, donations in Ken’s memory may be made to the:
Cleveland Clinic/Philanthropy Institute
P.O. Box 931517
Cleveland, OH 44193-1655

To send condolences to the family, please visit

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