The Vitra Design Museum, designed by the Pritzker-winning architect Frank Gehry is a fine example of the immaculate fusion of form and function. Located in the German village of Weil am Rhein, across the border from the city of Basel, Switzerland, the building boasts a modest white plaster facade, zinc roof and a volumetric structure composed of various geometric shapes. It is a fine example of the immaculate fusion of form and function.
Architecture lovers find, in Vitra, the ideal place to review and study the history of design. Gehry’s first major project in Europe is a reinterpretation of the large white cube, an architectural sculpture that set the tone of his illustrious career. Inside, there are four large exhibition halls of approximately 700 square feet in area, whose main source of illumination is a skylight in the form of a cross, visible from the outside.
Rolf Fehlbaum, the founder of the Swiss firm Vitra, manufacturers of high-end furniture, created the museum, in 1989. During the 1990s, the firm organized internationally recognized exhibitions that included retrospectives of Charles and Ray Eames, Frank Lloyd Wright and Luis Barragán. Simultaneously, the company also organized traveling exhibitions and created its own product line to help finance a program of cultural activities.
Since then, Vitra has established an independent publishing firm, a second exhibition space—the Vitra Design Museum Gallery—and online collections to be viewed on their website.
The Vitra, considered one of the most important design museums in the world, is devoted to architecture, interior design and the art of creative furnishings. Two major exhibitions are presented each year in the main building. Meanwhile, the Vitra Design Museum Gallery exhibits smaller samples that explore a variety of subjects, from future technologies, sustainability and social responsibility to historical themes or retrospectives of important designers.
A visit to Vitra´s permanent collection is a rich sensory experience. Its extensive inventory is often the core of many exhibitions, publications, and research projects. The collection focuses primarily on industrial furniture design and lighting and is complemented by other elements such as cutlery, consumer electronics, and architectural prototypes.
The importance of this museum lies not only in its exhibitions but also in its documentation and research center, archives, library and conservation workshops. Indeed, thanks to those conservation workshops, it was possible to preserve such an important legacy.
Its constantly growing collection, featuring more than 6,000 objects, is available to researchers, but the museum also loans pieces to other institutions, including the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. These exhibitions are conceived, by the Vitra, as traveling projects to be seen around the world. ■