Vitra Design Museum

By | January 6, 2011

Vitra Design Museum

Vitra Design Museum, designed by Frank Gehry, is one of fourteen highlights on the Vitra Campus architectural tour.

During the summer of 2010, I visited the Vitra Campus in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany. Vitra manufactures industrial furniture, including classics by Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Jean Prouvé, and Verner Panton, as well as work by contemporary designers. In addition to the factory buildings and the Vitra Design Museum, which was designed by Frank Gehry in 1989, the campus includes an array of innovative architectural structures designed by a diverse group of international architects. According to architecture critic Philip Johnson, “Not since the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart in 1927 has there been a gathering in a single place of a group of buildings designed by the most distinguished architects in the Western world.” A guided architectural tour provides access to many of the buildings, including the Dome designed by Buckminster Fuller in 1978, the Fire Station by Zaha Hadid, which boasts no right angles, and Tadao Ando’s Conference Pavilion both completed in 1993. These examples of modern architecture together with the museum exhibitions make the Vitra Campus an important cultural destination for the study of industrial furniture design and architecture. I was there to explore the newly opened VitraHaus, view the exhibition Die Essenz der Dinge/The Essence of Things, which considered “reduction in design from economic, functional, aesthetic and ethical perspectives,” and examine historical pieces from the Vitra collection, one of the world’s largest modern furniture collections representing all of the major styles and eras from the beginning of the nineteenth century.

The VitraHaus is a really fascinating building. It was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, a Swiss architectural firm headquartered in Basel. Their inspiration for the VitraHaus derives from the graphic icon of an archetypal house with a gable roof. Twelve of these individual “houses” are stacked on top of each other and blended together to form a unified structure that deceives perception and defies gravity. The ends of the houses are glass and positioned to take advantage of incredible views of the surrounding countryside. The interior spaces invite exploration; they are unique and unexpected especially where the houses intersect. The VitraHaus Café, Design Museum Shop, showrooms for the Vitra Home Collection, and the Vitrine, an exhibition space that features historical objects from the Vitra collection, occupy the VitraHaus.


VitraHaus, designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened on the Vitra Campus in 2010. Luscious ripe cherries dangle from the branches of a tree on the campus, which was founded in the midst of cherry orchards.

VitraHaus, interior.

VitraHaus, interior, looking out over the beautiful countryside through iconic house-shaped windows where two "houses" intersect.

VitraHaus, interior, showcases products from the Vitra Home Collection.

Buckminster Fuller's Dome

Buckminster Fuller's Dome.

Vitra Fire Station

The Fire Station, designed by Zaha Hadid in 1993, has no right angles—a visual metaphor of the explosion that destroyed the previous structure.

Susan at Vitra Design
Susan Merritt in the Conference Pavilion at the Vitra Campus in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany, during a study trip to Europe in July, 2010. The Conference Pavilion was designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in1993.

All photographs by Susan Merritt.

References: Die Essenz der Dinge/The Essence of Things exhibition leaflet; Welcome to the Vitra Campus Design & Architecture booklet; notes from my personal travel journal.

Learn more about Vitra at their website:

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