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Project Vitra
By Cornel Windlin & Rolf Fehlbaum

April 28, 2008 /
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The book offers an inside look at the firms collaboration with architects and designers.

Project Vitra began in 1957 in Birsfelden near Basel with the production of the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson. Today Vitra is active and known throughout the world for its products and cultural initiatives, which are evidenced by the Vitra Design Museum, its collections, and the architecture of the firms own corporate campus. Vitra sees itself first and foremost as a project driven by the desire and determination to design the world.

"The reason we call it a project is because everyone involved regards it as much more than just a matter of business. Obviously economic success was, and will remain, the foundation of the Vitra company. However, the direction of our work is guided by the project. It is based on the conviction that everyday life holds great potential for inspiration and aesthetic enjoyment, and that design can discover and develop this potential. The Vitra project serves this purpose. It manifests itself on different levels: in the company's products and interior concepts, in its architecture, collections, museum, methods of communication and, finally, in its approach o both designers and users. These tangible manifestations are the subject of this book."
Rolf Fehlbaum
Chairman Vitra

Vitra's headquarters are located in the metropolitan area of Basel, with the Vitra Center in Birsfelden, Switzerland, and the Vitra Campus, the Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Both the Vitra Center and the Vitra Campus are known for their contemporary architecture. These buildings have symbolized the company's rigorous standards and distinctive identity for a quarter of a century.

Vitra's first factory building was constructed in 1957 outside the town of Birsfelden, near Basel. Frank Gehry's new addition, the Vitra Center, was completed in 1994.
The seeemingly random volumes, a facade of titanium-zinc sheeting and a somewhat hiddenmain entrance at the front.

2projectvitra.jpgPhoto: arcspace

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The second of Nicholas Grimshaw's two factory halls is clad in horizontally ribbed metal elements, giving the building a futuristic look.

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Alvar Siza's red clinker brick hall was constructed in 1994. The idea of linking Alvaro Siza's and Grimshaw's factory halls was conceived by Siza in 1994.

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Hadid's concrete and glass Fire Station, originally housing the fire trucks, was inspired by the speed and dynamic movement of fire. At the time of construction Hadid had only designed a restaurant interior in Japan.

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Tadao Ando's Conference pavilion is made of the very fine concrete typical of many Ando designs. This concrete with a very special tactile quality comes from adding ash to the basic concrete mix.

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Frank Gehry's Design Museum, covered in titanium-zinc sheeting, has a cross-shaped layout, allowing plenty of natural light to enter the upper and lower floors.

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In addition to the existing buildings SANAA has designed an almost circular factory building for Vitrashop, due for completion in 2009.

9projectvitra.jpgModel photo @ SANAA

The new VitraHaus complex, a vedge-shaped structure that will echo the Vitra Design Museum, is designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. The gable roofs also reflect an architectural feature popular in the region. Also due for completion in 2009.

10projectvitra.jpgModel photo @ Herzog & de Meuron

"These dynamic constructions, which cross cultural and stylistic frontiers are metaphors for a world undergoing radical change. They represent, on the one hand, the hectic movement of people, towns, information and images which intwine the planet with their vertiginous flows, but they also represent the growing instability and nomadic life that characterize modern economies and society, whose imbalances further precipitate changes and fractures. Architecture is in motion but, like the world, we do not really know where it is going."
Louis Fernandez-Galiano

Since 1957 when the company, based in Birsfelden, began producing designs by Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson, Vitra has focused all of its energy on developing and manufacturing exceptional furniture that is both durable and aesthetically unique.
 
 11projectvitra.jpgPhoto © Vitra archive
Charles and Ray Eames Collection

12pojectvitra.jpgPhoto © Vitra archive
Werner Panton Collection

13projectvitra.jpgPhoto © Vitra archive
Jasper Morrison Collection

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Antonio Citterio Collection

15projectvitra.jpgVitra Edition 2007
Photo © Hans-Jörg Walter
Office Pets by Hella Jongerius

16projectvitra.jpgPhoto © Thomas Dix Foto-Design
Exhibition: The Work of Charles and Ray Eames, 1997

17projectvitra.jpgPhoto © Thomas Dix Foto-Design
Exhibition: Isamu Noguchi - Sculptural Design, 2001

Vitra sees designers not simply as contractors but as authors. The relationship of trust between these authors from all corners of the world and Vitra, who shares their ambitions, is at the very heart of the company's product development process.
Collaborations are always a subtle synthesis of artistic freedom, production know-how and industry knowledge.

18projectvitra.jpgPhoto © Vitra archive

Table designs - this picture shows an installation by M/M (Paris) - are among the highlights of Jean Prouvé's oeuvre. Working closely with the Prouvé family, Vitra started manufacturing them again in 2002.

19projectvitra.jpgDrawing by Maira (Kalman's wife)

Graphic designer Tibor Kalman, with whom Vitra worked very closely during the 1990s, visiting Rolf Fehlbaum and Federica Zanco in Basel.

The Vitra Design Museum collections evolved from modest beginnings in the 1980s to become one of the world's most important collections of modern furniture and Vitra is continually expanding its range of products and concepts for the workplace as well as public and private spaces.

The book offers an inside look at the firms collaboration with architects and designers, including Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Alexander Girard, Tibor Kalman, Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, SANAA, Jasper Morrison, Zaha Hadid, Hella Jongerius, Maarten Van Severen, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, Jean Prouvé, Mario Bellini, Antonio Citterio, Alberto Meda, Verner Panton, Herzog and de Meuron, and many others.

Featuring extensive unpublished material from the Vitra archives that tells the
stories behind the furniture icons, and demonstrates the firm's successful balancing act between cultural ambitions and commercial success, it is without doubt one of the most interesting, informative, and fun books for anyone interested in architecture and design.

With photographs by Maurice Scheltens, Olivo Barbieri, Gabriele Basilico, Giovanni Chiaramonte, Paola de Pietri and Bruns/Ueberschär/Wootton and texts by Deyan Sudjic, Luis Fernández-Galiano, Deyan Sudjic, Alex Coles, Alexander von Vegesack, Mathias Remmele und Rolf Fehlbaum.

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Last updated: December 19, 2013

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