Milan’s exchange with the international design scene is like a 24/7 dinner party including a constant stream of guests arriving from all corners of the world. It’s spectacular to witness events like Milan Design Week, but the buzz continues year-round and Vitra is always present.
“Typecasting: An Assembly of Iconic, Forgotten and New Vitra Characters”, a Vitra exhibition curated by Robert Stadler, was featured at La Pelota during Milan Design Week 2018. It consisted of 200 contemporary furniture objects alongside those from yesteryear, presenting an almost sociological view of chairs and sofas.
Follow along as we delve further into the imagination and innovation of Vitra.
Vitra has been a Swiss family business for 80 years, founded by Willi and Erika Fehlbaum in 1950. Since then, it’s been busy building a worldwide consumer base and connecting with an international network of designers, resulting in numerous design awards.
The Vitra of today focuses on furniture and interiors/exteriors of homes, offices, shops, and public spaces. Its headquarters is in Birsfelden, Switzerland and their campus is a stone’s throw from Basel in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
There’s no greater example of their work than their own Vitra Campus. It functions as a production site for the Swiss manufacturer as well as a wonderland for designers and design aficionados.
VITRA CAMPUS : the Architecture
The iconic campus has expanded gradually over the years by inviting artists and architects to create unique buildings, structures, and sculptures that have become integral elements of the landscape. There’s no shortage of talent in their list of collaborators:
Balancing Tools by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, 1984
Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry, 1989 + Fire Station by Zaha Hadid, 1993
Conference Pavilion by Tadao Ando, 1993 + VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron, 2010
Factory Building by SANAA, 2012 + Vitra Slide Tower by Carsten Höler, 2014
Vitra Schaudepot by Herzog & de Meuron, 2016
Balancing Tools – Vitra
Conference Pavilion Interior and Exterior – Wojtek Gurak
‘Typecasting‘ – Vitra
Various Exteriors – grace davin
VitraHaus – Vitra
VitraHaus Loft by India Mahdavi – Vitra
VitraHaus Extrerior – Pinterest
VITRA Designers & Products
Collaborations with international designers keep Vitra at the top of its game. The company has worked with important Italian designers, such as Mario & Claudio Bellini, Antonio Citterio, and Alberto Meda. It would be impossible to imagine Vitra without Charles and Ray Eames. The late couple inspired the founders to become furniture manufacturers and greatly influenced the development of the design philosophy Vitra continues to follow today.
Vitra products and concepts are created by authors (their in-house term for designers and architects) who produce meaningful stories to last a family for generations to come. The pre-production and material selection processes reflect a mind to the future, which becomes a point of pride and definite value for the consumer. Sustainability is not a trend the company has built into their mission for social acceptance or glory, but rather it is an aspect that has guided their industrial culture.
“Sustainability is just like morals: one should live by them and not just talk about them. Our roots in modern design make the first step easy: we make productsthat avoid the superfluous and last for a very long time.” – Rolf Fehlbaum (Chairman Emeritus of Vitra)
Landi Chair by Hans Coray, 1938 + Davy Table by Michel Charlot, 2014 – Vitra
Eames Plastic Chairs – Vitra
Eames lounge chair and ottoman + Eames plastic armchair RAR – Vitra
Polder Sofa by Jongeriuslab + Hexagonal Table by Alexander Girard – Vitra
Timeless icons – Vitra
Vitra in 2018
The latest additions to the Vitra Campus include two sculptural works and an artistic interpretation of a shelter. The Vitra Design Museum hosts a permanent collection of 400 important pieces of modern furniture as well as an exhibition of Ron Arad’s work.
1/ Ring & Ruisseau by Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec
A small stream of water flows down a marble-based path near a silver ring of galvanized steel entrancing a tree. The imagined purpose of both these objects is left to the individual. How would a child approach these objects? How would we understand them in a public space?
“Our aim is to give a new sense of magic to the places where we walk, meet, and talk. The scenarios we develop should both be pragmatic and poetic.” – Studio Bouroullec
It’s a unique perspective on urban development and both pieces certainly fit the landscape on Vitra Campus, the ring functioning as a collective bench.
2/ Blockhaus – Thomas Schütte
“An architect would never build this. If someone orders a schnitzel, I can bring a steak.” –Thomas Schütte on his Blockhaus shelter
This structure is unique because it was created by an artist, rather than an architect. The difference being that Schütte worked with free hands, serving an idea led by his artistic instinct, rather than the confines of what would be financially and functionally appeasing.
He created it as a space to literally receive shelter from the elements and includes a water fountain inside to replenish visitors. It is also a peaceful place for contemplation. The steel roof tilts atop beams of Russian pine, which offer more insulation coming from a much colder climate and a truly delightful scent upon entering the structure.
3/ Ron Arad: Yes to the Uncommon!
This exhibit is a glimpse of Ron Arad’s early designs presented at Vitra Schaudepot. You can view iconic works of his such as “Big Easy”, “Little Heavy”, and “Tinker Chair.” Moroso and Kartell manufactured his designs with different materials, as his pieces were often made of tempered steel.
Vitra Design Museum Archive / Roland Engerisser
Arad’s metal-eating machine, aptly called ‘Sticks & Stones’, was also on display after a nearly 30-year hiatus. Its initial debut in 1987 at Centre Pompidou presented a pensive opinion of consumption and overproduction within the design world. Its humorous function turns chairs and other objects into cubes of various sizes.
Ron Arad Associates
Vitra Design Museum Archive
The Vitra Campus is worth a day-trip and vast enough to warrant a week-long visit. Aside from its work as a furniture manufacturer, this company embodies the ideals and curiosities necessary to continually push the design world forward through ideas, atmospheres, and sometimes, yes, chairs.
The Vitra Campus is located not far from Basel and you can reach it from Milan with a 4 hours drive.