The Kaufmann department store in Pittsburgh was built in 1887 and offered 12 floors of retail splendour under the management of Edgar J Kaufmann. Kaufmann’s great wealth enabled him to indulge his taste for modernist architecture and he commissioned two landmark residences – the first, in 1934 was Fallingwater in the Allegheny Mountains, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and the second, in 1946 was the Desert House in Palm Springs designed by Richard Neutra. The design of the store reflected Kaufmann’s preferences and lavish interiors were created. In 1937 Frank Lloyd Wright designed a cypress panelled executive office for Kaufmann that in 1974 found its way to London when Edgar Kaufmann Jr donated his late father’s office to the Victoria & Albert Museum. The V & A restored and reassembled it and placed it on display in 1993 but at the time of writing it is consigned to storage.
The spirited and dramatic cutaway illustrations are the work of Lucille Corcos (1908-73) and accompanied a Fortune magazine feature on Kaufmann from September 1944. The executive office is not visible but not much is missing as Corcos exposes the inner workings of this retail leviathan. In the post-war dog eat dog capitalism Kaufmann’s went through a long sequence of buy-outs and take-overs, repeatedly swallowed up and regurgitated in a different form until the trading name finally expired in 2006.