When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When at Vitra HQ, have breakfast with Eckart Maise. It was a huge opportunity to sit down with the Chief Design Officer at Vitra. This relaxed and insightful conversation allowed me to peak into the more global-level view of Vitra and how the company works. Eckart offered a great thought which I hope doesn't get lost in here (hell maybe I'll just do it in bold), how would a chair look when there are 100 in a room? This was a really interesting insight which helped explain how Vitra approach a project and how they go through development allowing explosive exploration and then rein it in to regain focus. He explained this as editing pure expression of material and form. It was here where my overall view of Vitra was really cemented, where the focus of the company on the design process, the workshops they hold with their designers and the intense collaboration which takes place that leads to such original products really became clear. Lets go back to that super fun three things the company stands for question (this was actually super insightful from someone so high placed within the company). Its clear to see that everyone who works for Vitra sees the company as not only a commercial project, but also a cultural one. Their focus on a strong in-house research and development is obviously import to their process and their relationship with their designers. It was great to hear, and I have to say I think this was the first person who might have said this on behalf of a company, but Vitra is also committed to the fight for originality and authenticity beyond commercial gain. We followed that up with a tour of the studio space with Jurgen Durrbaum, who has been with the company for over 40 year. This provided another opportunity to see the higher level changes which have occurred at the company over its long life, and the huge amount of change which has occurred in the last twenty years. His time in the company has also seen societal shifts and changes within all of the spaces within which Vitra works, so it was really interesting to hear his thoughts on how he has always approached design with the thought for the future of society and how this has informed his work on future office concepts. This included ideas around office "islands" or spaces which allows workers to step away from where they might be working to have informal meetings, or just to step out of one context to see a problem in another way.
A transfer to the Vitra Campus and finally an opportunity to get inside the new Schaudepot—a German word which means something like: storage and showroom. This space was absolutely fascinating and made to be both a celebration of the world of chairs and a deep study of the development of the heart of design itself. Downstairs one can peer into the archived collections stored on shelves in rows, iconic pieces next to iterations and prototypes, which contains 7000 chairs and 1000 lamps (there are over 20,000 objects in the collection in all). Upstairs the chairs are laid out chronologically, with a revolving exhibition on display also. I was also very happy to find the piece I wrote my essay on for Be Original Americas in the collection. Vitra had also arranged for an extended info session on the Panton chair and its history with the company, with access to some initial sketches by Panton and historic photos.
I was lucky enough to go inside the office of the Vitra Museum Foundation, which was wonderful and holds an absolutely incredible library (which is open to the public by appointment!) This also provided the opportunity to spend some time peering into the conservation space where the conservators were diligently working on some very interesting Ettore Sottsass pieces for an upcoming exhibition.
My final planned stop of the day was a tour of the aluminum production facility which provided some insight into the manufacturing processes and division of labor which allows Vitra to produce such high quality pieces in the numbers they do.
Finally, some free time to run around the campus and visit the Vitra Design Museum and some of the other pieces of architecture which I hadn’t been able to make it to already, like the Vitrahaus which acts as something in-between a showroom and a gallery (Vitra don’t actually sell an items directly from the Vitrahaus).
When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When Basel, have float down the Rhine…
This has been a crazy, wonderful and intense experience. I have really appreciated the level to which Vitra pulled back the curtain and allowed me to see the real inner thoughts and workings of the company. I have to say, the length of time (three fairly intense days) allowed for enough time to get some great insight into the company and explore many of the aspects of Vitra in a very detailed and hugely impactful way. I want to take the opportunity to thank everyone who was involved with making this happen and took the huge amount of time it must have taken to organize all these experiences and meetings.