An Exhibit Tells the Story of Legendary Design Brand Vitra

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By William Lamb / Published by Dwell
"Vitra—Design, Architecture, Communication: a European Project with American Roots" is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through April 26.

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.

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

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.

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

Available at the Dwell Store.

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.

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Wiggle Side Chair designed by Frank Gehry, 1972.

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.

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Hand-painted wooden dolls by Alexander Girard, 1953.

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

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

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

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The W.W. Stool by Philippe Starck.

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

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