written by:
December 5, 2014
"Vitra—Design, Architecture, Communication: a European Project with American Roots" is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through April 26.
Eames Elephant by Vitra

Eames Elephant, designed in 1945 by Charles and Ray Eames. Loaned by Rolf Fehlbaum/Vitra International A.G.

Photo by 
1 / 10
Ball Clock by George Nelson

Ball clock, designed by George Nelson. Loaned by Vitra Inc.

Available at the Dwell Store.

2 / 10
Wiggle Side Chair by Frank Gehry

Wiggle Side Chair designed by Frank Gehry, 1972.

Courtesy of 
Hans Hansen
3 / 10
Wooden Dolls by Alexander Girard

Hand-painted wooden dolls by Alexander Girard, 1953.

Photo by 
4 / 10
Balancing Tools by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen

Balancing Tools by Claes Oldenburg & Coosje van Bruggen, installed at the Vitra campus in 1984.

5 / 10
Well-Tempered Chair by Ron Arad

Well-Tempered Chair by Ron Arad. Loaned by the Vitra Design Museum.

Photo by 
6 / 10
Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry

The Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, designed by Frank Gehry, 1989.

Courtesy of 
Thomas Dix/Vitra
7 / 10
W.W. Stool by Philippe Starck

The W.W. Stool by Philippe Starck.

Courtesy of 
8 / 10
Vegetal Chair by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec

The Vegetal Chair by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec. Loaned by Vitra.

Photo by 
9 / 10
East River Chair by Hella Jongerius

East River Chair by Hella Jongerius, designed 2014. Loaned by Vitra.

Photo by 
10 / 10
Eames Elephant by Vitra

Eames Elephant, designed in 1945 by Charles and Ray Eames. Loaned by Rolf Fehlbaum/Vitra International A.G.

Photo by Marc Eggimann.

A temporary exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art tells the story of Vitra, the family-owned Swiss furniture company, from its roots as a licensed producer of Herman Miller pieces for the European market through its ambitious architectural commissions and its eclectic contemporary design collaborations.

The exhibition—titled “Vitra—Design, Architecture, Communication: a European Project with American Roots”—gathers 120 or so pieces, including furniture, design objects, publications, models, and videos.

Vitra’s founders, Willi and Erika Fehlbaum, started the company as a vehicle for licensing Herman Miller furniture by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson, and Alexander Girard for sale in Europe. The company continues to produce many of those pieces, even as it has branched out by commissioning newer objects and furnishings by designers like Verner Panton, Antonio Citterio, Jasper Morrison, and the brothers Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec.

Rolf Fehlbaum, who joined the family business in 1977 and later became its chairman, presided over Vitra’s expansion into architecture, hiring Nicholas Grimshaw to design new factory buildings for the company after a fire destroyed much of its production facilities in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Other high-profile commissions followed, including Frank Gehry’s Vitra Design Museum, a fire station by Zaha Hadid, a conference pavilion by Tadao Ando and the VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron.

The exhibit is divided into the following sections: American Roots, Communications, Architecture/Site, Products/Designers, and Vitra Design Museum. It runs through April 26, 2015.

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