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Wooden Dolls, designed 1963 by Alexander Girard. Made by Vitra GmbH, Basel, Switzerland. Solid fir, hand-painted (Lent by Vitra)


Vitra—Design, Architecture, Communication: A European Project with American Roots

November 22, 2014–April 26, 2015

Established in 1950, the family-owned Swiss company Vitra is one of the most innovative design firms in the world. Renowned for its functional yet inspiring interior designs, furniture, and accessories, Vitra is internationally recognized for its creative partnerships with design visionaries such as Philippe Starck, Ron Arad, and Verner Panton. Its remarkable ensemble of contemporary architecture and strong commitment to education via exhibitions, collections and archives, publications, and public programs set Vitra apart from other design companies. This exhibition tells Vitra's story—its American roots, product collaborations, architectural commissions, communication methods, and approach to both designers and consumers—through an immersive presentation of furniture and design objects, models and material studies, drawings, aerial photographs of its campus, and videos.

In 1957, Vitra founders Willi and Erika Fehlbaum rooted the company in the United States by licensing furniture for the European market from the Michigan firm of Herman Miller, including designs by Americans Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson. The Eameses' understanding of design as the "recognition of need" and their warning against "stylistic excess" have shaped Vitra's endeavors ever since. In addition to new products by leading international designers, the company continues to manufacture classics of modern furniture design.

Rolf Fehlbaum, who personally knew the Eameses and George Nelson, joined Vitra in 1977. After a major fire destroyed Vitra's facilities in Weil am Rhein, Germany, in 1981, he commissioned British architect Nicholas Grimshaw to design new factory buildings; these were the first in a series of structures Fehlbaum would commission for the Vitra campus, including the Vitra Design Museum and offices by Frank Gehry, the Fire Station by Zaha Hadid, a conference pavilion by Tadao Ando, and Balancing Tools, a large-scale outdoor sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.

Rolf Fehlbaum, currently chairman emeritus at Vitra, will receive Collab's 2014 Design Excellence Award on Friday, November 21. Each year Collab, a group that supports the Museum's modern and contemporary design collection and programs, honors a design professional who has made significant contributions to the field. In addition, Collab's Student Design Competition (offered since 1993) challenges area college students to be inspired by themes closely associated with the Design Excellence Award winner and the corresponding exhibition.

Main Building


The exhibition is made possible by Lisa S. Roberts and David W. Seltzer. Additional support is provided by Collab—a group that supports the Museum's modern and contemporary design collection and programs—as well as Pro Helvetia, the Swiss Arts Council, and PHILLIPS. The exhibition is presented in collaboration with Vitra. The Philadelphia Museum of Art gratefully acknowledges the Dolfinger-McMahon Foundation and Poor Richard's Charitable Trust for support of the Collab Student Design Competition. The Collab 2014 Design Excellence Award Gala is generously sponsored by Morgan Stanley.


Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger, The J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. Family Senior Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700

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