Designed by the well known diconstructivist architect Frank Gehry, the Vitra Design Museum is an internationally and privately owned museum for design in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Vitra CEO Rolf Fehlbaum founded the museum in 1989.
It is Frank Gehry‘s first building in Europe in cooperation with the Lörrach architect Günter Pfeifer. Gehry also built a more functional-looking production hall and a gatehouse for the Vitra factory though, it is originally just designed to house Rolf Fehlbaum’s private collection.
The museum was established as an independent foundation dedicated to the research and popularization of design and architecture. Despite its modest scale, the museum building emerged as a programmatic work of deconstructivism.
Being influenced by the usual style of Frank Gehry, the deconstructive sculptural building differs only slightly than his usual designs. He limited his materials to white plaster and a titanium-zinc alloy. For the first time, he allowed curved forms to break up his more usual angular shapes. The sloping white forms appear to echo the Notre Dame du Haut Chapel by Le Corbusier in Ronchamp, France, not far from Weil. The architect himself said, “I love the shaping I can do when I’m sketching and it never occurred to me that I would do it in a building. The first thing I built of anything like that is Vitra in Germany”.
At only 8,000 square feet, the two-story Vitra Museum is one of the world’s largest collections of furniture, with pieces from most periods and styles beginning with the nineteenth century and continuing into the modern era. A functional mix of towers, ramps and cubes, the volumes of the building are determined by lighting and programmatic necessities. At the rear end of the building, the factory hall relates to the adjacent building by Nicholas Grimshaw in both size and height. A formal link between the museum is found in the towers and ramps, which bridge together the production areas, showroom, test laboratory, cafeteria, a multi-purpose room and offices.
Paul Heyer, an architecture critic, described the visitor’s experience as, “a continuous changing swirl of white forms on the exterior, each seemingly without apparent relationship to the other, with its interiors a dynamically powerful interplay, in turn directly expressive of the exterior convolutions. As a totality it resolves itself into an entwined coherent display…”. Surrounded by a meadow of cherry trees, the museum is also nearby to Claes Oldenburg’s sculpture Balancing Tools, as well as a conference pavilion by Tadao Ando.
Another architecture critic Philip Johnson once wrote, “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”.
Project: Vitra Design Museum and Factory
Architect: Frank Gehry
Location: Charles-Eames-Straße 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany