Posts Tagged ‘Weil am Rhein’

(smow) blog compact design tourism special: Weil am Rhein – City of Chairs

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

Any self-respecting modern conurbation needs a moniker. An evocative tag line on which to hang its city marketing strategy and attract tourists.

Paris is of course the City of Love, Rome the Eternal City, Prague the City of a Hundred Spires while Edinburgh, whether advisable or not, regails as simply Auld Reekie.

In 1998 the southern German town of Weil am Rhein re-christened itself “City of Chairs”

If we’re honest the reason why escapes us, for aside from Vitra there is, as far as we are aware, no further chair manufacturer in the town.

Nor can Weil am Rhein by any stretch of the imagination be considered the cradle of contemporary chair design.

But then when did facts play a part in such naming decisions. The Polish city of Wrocław calls itself the City of Hundred Bridges when it has, at most, forty; Tel Aviv likes to be known as The City That Never Stops, a patent lie as anyone who has visited over Yom Kippur can testify; while in these pages we have often highlighted the, let’s say curiosities, associated Chemnitz’s claim to be the City of Modernism.

And so, why not Weil am Rhein – City of Chairs. With the Vitra Design Museum Weil am Rhein can at least rightly claim to host one of the most complete documentations of contemporary chair design to be found anywhere.

By way of visualising, and cementing, Weil am Rhein’s claim in 1999 the town’s marketing authority started positioning over-sized models of important and interesting examples of chair designs around the town. Each of the so-called Maxiaturen are produced in a scale ranging from 1.5:1 up to 8:1 and have all been realised in collaboration with the Vitra Design Museum – thus ensuring that just as with the Vitra Design Museum miniatures collection the Maxiaturen remain true to the originals.

Each Maxiaturen is sponsored by a local business or institution and from an initial collection of nine chairs has now grown to 21, and extended geographically beyond the towns boundaries to neighbouring communities.

And so one can enjoy, for example, Jasper Morrison‘s Wingnut Chair on Lindenplatz in Altweil, the Zig Zag chair by Gerrit T. Rietveld on Weil am Rhein Hauptstrasse or 3:1 copy of Michael Thonet’s Chair Nr. 14 in the nearby village of Ötlingen. Further Maxiaturen present works by designers as varied as Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Mart Stam, Michele de Lucchi, Ron Arad or Shiro Kuramata, in addition to two copies of Robert Mallet-Stevens’ 1920s stacking tubular steel chair. One big. And one even bigger.

Although each chair is accompanied by a plaque saying what it is, by whom it is and who paid for it, there is, sadly, no further information available to help the viewer place the work in a historical or creative context. However that aside, the presence of the chairs does make a stroll though and round Weil am Rhein a little more entertaining than would otherwise be the case. But much more allows one a moment of calm to consider both the development of chair design over the decades and also the state of contemporary chair design and the role of the contemporary chair designer. As such should you visit the Vitra Campus do try to find a bit of time to discover the Maxiaturen. And should you decide to photograph any of them – try not to look too much as if you might be from the police, customs and excise, immigration, social work or any similar official body.

Full details on the location of all chairs can be found at:

We’ve still not found all 21, but here a few impressions of those we have…..

Vitra Campus Expands: Vitra Slide Tower and Álvaro-Siza-Promenade Open

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Back in 2011 we took umbrage at the fence surrounding the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein and so, taking up Ronald Regan’s mantle, issued a challenge to Vitra’s Chairman Emeritus Rolf Fehlbaum  “Mr Fehlbaum! Tear down this wall” we demanded, “Or at least move it a little. Please”

And Rolf Fehlbaum listened. And has indeed moved it a little. Thank you!1

However, being a much more enlightened man than us, Rolf Fehlbaum thought further and not only took the opportunity thus created to invite Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza to landscape a promenade linking the Vitra House with Zaha Hadid’s Fire Station building, but also engaged artist Carsten Höller to develop an installation for the newly liberated space. The result is the Vitra Slide Tower, an object that does pretty much what it sounds like it should.

Vitra Campus Vitra Slide Tower

Ding-Dong! The fence is gone! To paraphrase the Munchkins. In the background the Vitra Slide Tower.

The decision to invite Álvaro Siza to landscape the promenade was, according to Rolf Fehlbaum, no random decision, rather was made on the basis of Siza’s previous landscaping projects including his swimming pool complex in Leça da Palmeira and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago di Compostela. Winding some 500 metres around the western edge of the Vitra Campus the Álvaro-Siza-Promenade is lined with hornbeam hedges, the neat row occasionally opening to reveal green spaces, views across the Vitra Campus and seating areas ringed with granite benches. On its way it passes Renzo Piano’s Diogene and the new Vitra Slide Tower before passing through a narrow gap in a brick and granite wall from where a vista opens at the end of which stands the Fire Station.

Yes, it’s a path.

No, there was no need to hire a Pritzker Prize winning architect to landscape it.


Álvaro Siza has created a promenade that takes the chore out of walking a path. Much like a football referee has done his job well if no-one can remember what they did during a match, so to should such a promenade be undertaken without you having the feeling your walking somewhere. Álvaro Siza has achieved that with a path in which nature and architecture don’t blend effortlessly but one in which they are forced to compete with one another, to fight for their position. Something both components successfully achieve with more than a modicum of charm.

Vitra Campus Vitra Slide Tower

The view from the top of the Vitra Slide Tower

The structure that makes the least effort to blend in or otherwise adapt is without question Carsten Höller’s Vitra Slide Tower. Standing some 30 metres high the Slide Tower is not an especially attractive piece of work, extruding as it does the aesthetic charm of your average electricity pylon. It does however have something unquestionably 1950s trash American retro about it. We’re not saying a touch of the Las Vegas in Weil am Rhein, but at night when the rotating clock is illuminated there is something satisfyingly trashy about it. Like the Manic Street Preacher’s first album. We appreciate we’re probably supposed to say it reminds us of Russian Constructivist architecture à la Tatlins Tower,  which it does, but….

The visual appearance of the piece however is of less importance, what is important is what it is. The process leading to the tower began when Rolf Fehlbaum considered how one could integrate more art into the Vitra Campus site. A sculpture garden didn’t appeal to him, then the contemporary art curator Theodora Vischer suggested he ask Carsten Höller. From the ideas Carsten presented the concept of a tower with slide caught Rolf Fehlbaum’s imagination the most: on the one hand an art instillation but an art installation with elements of architecture and play. And did Charles Eames not implore us to “Take your pleasure seriously”.  The 38m long perspex covered slide allows you to do just that. While from the viewing platform one can enjoy a delightful, and much more sedate, panorama over Weil am Rhein, north Basel, the Tüllinger hills and of course the Vitra Campus.

All in all an excellent addition to the Vitra Campus and something which genuinely adds an extra dimension to any visit.

The Álvaro-Siza-Promenade can be freely enjoyed by all 24/7. The Vitra Slide Tower is open daily from 10am to 6pm, it is free, but be prepared to explain to younger children that use is restricted to those over 6 years old and/or 1.3 metres tall. Which is something we suspect will cause one or the other tantrum this summer. “But it’s a SLIDE mum!!”

In addition to the additions to the Vitra Campus the Vitra Design Museum Gallery is currently presenting the exhibition “Álvaro Siza – Visions of the Alhambra“. It is the same exhibition as previously shown at the Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin. And so we refer interested readers to our previous post. And until Sunday September 14th the exhibition Konstantin Grcic – Panorama can be enjoyed at the Vitra Design Museum itself.

1. There may be a certain degree of dramatic licence in these opening sentences…..

(smow) blog compact: Verner Panton – Visiona 1970. Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Saturday, April 19th, 2014

Parallel to the exhibition Konstantin Grcic – Panorama, the Vitra Design Museum is revisiting perhaps the daddy of all explorations of our possible futures, Verner Panton’s 1970 Visiona 2 exhibition.

Lacking a three story Rhine cruiser on which to present the complete exhibition, the Vitra Design Museum are instead presenting a recreation of the fabled Fantasy Landscape installation from Visiona 2 in the Vitra Design Museum gallery.

A recreation which one can enter and so experience with all your senses. Not that we recommend licking it.

In addition “Visiona 1970 Revisiting the Future” at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery presents original plans, sketches, inventories and other documentation to help one fully understand the scale and variety of the original 1970 Cologne exhibition.

Visiona 1970. Revisiting the Future can be viewed at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery, Charles-Eames-Str. 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany until Sunday June 1st 2014.

Entry is free and full details can be found at

A few impressions:

Verner Panton Visiona 1970 Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton - Visiona 1970. Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton Visiona 1970 Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton - Visiona 1970. Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton Visiona 1970 Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton - Visiona 1970. Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton Visiona 1970 Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Verner Panton - Visiona 1970. Revisiting the Future at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery

Konstantin Grcic – Panorama @ Vitra Design Museum

Monday, March 24th, 2014

One of the first telephone calls Mateo Kries and Marc Zehntner made upon assuming leadership of the Vitra Design Museum in 2011 was to Konstantin Grcic to discuss the possibility of an exhibition. Grcic was, in principle, open to the idea, but, “I didn’t want a static exhibition, something that froze my work in time, rather I wanted something dynamic”

That “something dynamic” is the exhibition Konstantin Grcic – Panorama which opened at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein on Friday March 21st 2014.

Konstantin Grcic Panorama Vitra Design Museum Netscape Swings

The dynamic Netscape installation by Konstantin Grcic in front of the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein

Presenting some 200 objects divided across four thematic sections, Panorama is, in effect, two exhibitions in one. The first, staged downstairs in the museum, addresses design themes of particular importance to Konstantin Grcic. And which Konstantin Grcic believes should be of importance to us as all. The exhibition opens with Life Space, a look at Grcic’s considerations on the future of domestic arrangements before moving over Work Space, an exploration of Konstantin Grcic’s own work process which doubles up as a discussion on the contemporary design process in general, and on to Public Space, which addresses the future of our urban spaces. The “second exhibition”, staged upstairs under the title Object Space, looks at Grcic’s oeuvre in more detail, presenting examples of Grcic’s works, be they products for manufacturers as varied as Moormann, Magis, ClassiCon or Flos, objects created in cooperation with galleries or projects that have never had a life outwith Konstantin Grcic’s Munich studio. Grcic’s own work standing juxtaposed to and in context of other, third-party, objects that have a particular relevance to Konstantin Grcic, his understanding of and approach to design and which have inspired and motivated his own creativity.

The separation is not just spatial and conceptual but also stylistic. Whereas the first three sections are presented true to Grcic’s position that “my designs do not immediately reveal themselves” and require the visitor to first identify the issues involved and then consider their own position to the questions raised, the final section is a classic example of dry, perfunctory, museal presentation.

Both Konstantin Grcic and Vitra Design Museum Chief Curator Mateo Kries speak of the fourth section as an exhibition within an exhibition. And of having it been deliberately conceived in such an immediate and unchallenging manner.

We can’t help feeling it is meant ironically.

“Look at the Grcic retrospective. How cute!”, the designati will no doubt squeal…..

It is a delightful, clearly structured presentation from which we learned a lot about Konstantin Grcic and how he works, but which we cannot, and honestly never will be able to, take seriously.

A state of affairs we thoroughly approve of.

Konstantin Grcic Panorama Vitra Design Museum Object Space

The Object Space section of Konstantin Grcic - Panorama at the Vitra Design Museum

As with the exhibition Lightopia for us the biggest problem with Panorama is the lack of space in the Vitra Design Museum.
Konstantin Grcic speaks about Frank Gehry’s building as being a challenge, of if it having a character, rough corners and how he likes that. In a building and in an object.

But there is no escaping the fact that one of the Vitra Design Museum’s characteristics is a lack of space. It may suffice for the conservative exhibition format as represented in the Object Space section, but an ambitious project on the scale of Panorama simply needs more space.

Each of the four sections can make a valid claim to be an exhibition in its own right – in our time we’ve viewed exhibitions hung on much thinner premises – and despite the scaling back that has obviously been undertaken in the development of the exhibition concept, one still feels occasionally cramped, or at least a little unwelcome. As if you should read a text about the exhibition rather than trouble the aching, distended space with your bulk.

The Life Space section, for example, should, indeed must, be a display that one can walk around and explore, touch, sit on, inhabit, not just view at a distance from the comfort of a Bench B. While Work Space needs to offer, well, space to work, which it currently doesn’t. The layout making it more reminiscent of a warehouse than a workshop; dormant rather than dynamic. And that not because the curators lacked the nous to think up anything else. But because of space issues.

None of which should be seen as criticism of the exhibition itself. Far from it.

Panorama is not an exhibition that is going to necessarily bring you any closer to Konstantin Grcic’s work per se. Grcic himself yes. But not his work. But then that isn’t the point. It is not really an exhibition about Konstantin Grcic’s work. It is an exhibition about contemporary design and the contemporary designer. Konstantin Grcic is merely the conduit.

Design today is inflationary. There is ever more “design” because ever more aspects of our daily life are presented, sold and understood as design. Even if they patently aren’t. Consequently the term “design” and the function of the “designer” become unclear, confused, contradictory and ultimately meaningless and irrelevant. Panorama helps focus the mind on what design really is. Or perhaps better put what contemporary design should be.

What is truly important for the home of the future? How can new technologies be best employed, rather than just employed? What forms will new technologies allow? And which are desirable? Sensible? What does it mean today to “live” some where? What is “work”? Are we prepared to sacrifice our privacy for domestic convenience? How can design help us achieve what we want and require? What, and how much, responsibility do designers carry in such processes?

Such questions are extended by a series of boards featuring snippets from articles and academic papers that approach and tackle related social, cultural and economic issues: Can deserts power the earth? Is a world without businesses and factories conceivable? Is the cloud polluting the air? The virtues of squatting……

The exhibition doesn’t do anything especially deep nor does the exhibition tackle all issues in contemporary design far less raise any new ones, but then that’s not the point. It is an exhibition by Konstantin Grcic about those things that matter to Konstantin Grcic and which Konstantin Grcic wants us all to consider more carefully.

And it does that very effectively, with very simple means and in a very accessible, if challenging, fashion.

Panorama also makes perfectly clear that the future is also about each one of us personally accepting our own share of the collective responsibility. And one can only take responsibility seriously when one appreciates and understands the world around you. Something made singularly clear in the exhibition segment Public Space. Housed in the largest space in the Vitra Design Museum Public Space is dominated by a 30 meter long, 4.5 metre high fantasy cityscape by London based artist Neil Campbell Ross. In front of this cityscape have been scattered a few Chair Ones on concrete pedestals and Grcic’s experimental 2007 project Landen. That’s it. There is also a fence. Which we thought was just for decoration, a 3D extension of the painting if you will, the actual thinking behind its inclusion is however depressingly clichéd. And so we’ll ignore it. And in any case, the focus of the room is the cityscape and the questions it allows about the current state of our urban environments and how we want them to develop. On the information panels Grcic poses questions concerning, for example, ownership of urban spaces, the requirement for humane urban forms or future urban mobility. What do we want from our future cities? How each of us responds and reacts to such challenges will ultimately affect the nature of our cities, and so determine if we become the future we want. Do we really want to leave such considerations to designers? Who is actually paying designers? And so once again, do we really want to leave such considerations to designers?

Konstantin Grcic Panorama Vitra Design Museum Life Space

Life Space. Konstantin Grcic - Panorama, Vitra Design Museum

Conceptual exhibitions such as Panorama always run the risk of becoming an intellectual emperors new clothes: the curators stare long and hard in their navels and devise a big concept composed of the finest theories elegantly stitched with doctrines and ideologies, the masses flock and announce themselves overwhelmed by the majesty of the spectacle. But ultimately all one has created is a vast excess of narcissistic pomp.

Panorama avoids such a fate by avoiding answering any questions, far less presenting a vision of the future. That’s your job. “I hope”, so Grcic, “visitors take the exhibition as the beginning of a discussion and reflect on what is presented and decide if one agrees with our positions. Or not.”

Which all of course makes one thing very clear, Konstantin Grcic – Panorama isn’t an exhibition for lazy Sunday afternoon with a hangover. Or at least the first three sections aren’t. The fourth almost invites such a condition. But, and in all seriousness, if you want to get anything useful out of the exhibition you need to invest time and mental effort.

The exhibition runs until September, and so in that respect you’ve no excuses.

Konstantin Grcic – Panorama can be viewed at the Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Strasse 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany until Sunday September 14th 2014. Full details including opening times, ticket prices and information on the accompanying fringe programme can be found at


5 New Design Exhibitions for March 2014

Friday, February 28th, 2014

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
And hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

Or, and much more sensibly, take himself off and visit one of the new design exhibitions opening during March. And so not only keep himself warm but also informed, entertained and inspired.

Our selection from the new, robin friendly, openings in March features an homage to East German concrete architecture in Stuttgart, Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec in Tulsa, Henry van de Velde in Zürich, Ray Eames in Pasadena, and Konstantin Grcic’s vision of the future in Weil am Rhein.

“Ray Eames: In the Spotlight” at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California, USA

In our 2013 post celebrating Ray Eames’ 100th birthday we encouraged “you all to investigate the works and talents of a remarkable artist and designer.

The Williamson Gallery in Pasadena are now offering that chance.

Curated by Eames’ granddaughter Carla Hartman “Ray Eames: In the Spotlight” promises to display letters, sketches, films, furniture, photographs et al that present an honest and deep glimpse of Ray Eames, and so introduce and illuminate the life and work of a woman who far too often and far too unfairly is presented as merely having provided the aesthetic accent to Charles Eames technical genius. Particularly exciting for us is the promise of sketches and drawings from the years before she met Charles, objects that could/should help explain how the New York abstractionist Ray Kaiser became the Californian modernist Ray Eames.

Ray Eames: In the Spotlight opens at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design, 1700 Lida Street, Pasadena, California, USA on Tuesday February 25th and runs until Sunday May 4th

Ray Eames In the Spotlight at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California, USA

"Ray Eames: In the Spotlight" at the Williamson Gallery at the Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California, USA

“Henry van de Velde – Interieurs” at Museum Bellerive, Zürich, Switzerland

One of the problems with all round talents such as Henry van de Velde is presenting exhibitions of their work. There is simply too much of it. And it is too varied.

As a consequence reducing down to explore one aspect, and so deciding to ignore all inevitable complaints about a lack of context, is the only realistic solution.

The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich’s Museum Bellerive dépendance have taken this sensible step and are hosting an exhibition devoted to Henry van de Velde’s interior designs. Presenting furniture, cutlery, crockery and textiles, complemented by photographs and planning sketches, “Henry van de Velde – Interieurs” promises to present not only an insight into van de Velde’s approach to his work but also explain how he helped move our understanding of interiors from the dark, heavy days of the late 19th century and onto the lighter, reduced style of the early 20th century.

Henry van de Velde – Interieurs opens at Museum Bellerive, Höschgasse 3, 8008 Zürich, Switzerland on Friday February 28th and runs until Sunday June 1st

Henry van de Velde Leidenschaft Funktion und Schönheit Klassik Stiftung Weimar

A Henry van de Velde interior, here as seen at "Leidenschaft, Funktion und Schönheit", Klassik Stiftung Weimar

“Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec – Album”  at the Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA

When the Vitra Design Museum Gallery opened the Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec exhibition Album it felt somehow, well, odd. An exhibition of drawings, sketches, shapes, colours. By designers.



Since then the foresightedness of the project has become apparent and ever more texts, books and exhibitions are devoting themselves to the analogue creative process and for all the role of drawing and sketching in design.

Presenting over 300 sketches by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec complimented by photographs and models Album provides not only a delightful insight into the brother’s creative process, but much more underscores the importance of having a firm understanding of what you want to do, what the aim of your project is, before you begin to form your design, your product. And that for such a process computers aren’t always the best solution.

Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec – Album opens at the Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 S. Rockford Road, Tulsa, Oklahoma, USA on Sunday March 2nd and runs until Sunday May 11th

bouroullec album vitra design museum weil am rhein

"Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec - Album", here at the Vitra Design Museum Gallery, Weil am Rhein

“Ulrich Müther – In Beton Gegossen” at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Stuttgart, Germany

Walk from north to south along the beach at Binz on the German Baltic Sea island of Rügen and you will eventually come across something that will make you stop. And stare. And possibly panic.

A U.F.O.

Created in 1981 by the East German civic engineer Ulrich Müther the Binz U.F.O. is, in actual fact, a lifeguard station constructed from a thin concrete shell.
And one of the most gloriously beguiling examples of Ulrich Müther’s craft.

Introduced to the “International Association for Shell and Spatial Structures” while a student in Dresden Ulrich Müther was to go onto become one of the leading protagonists of the use of thin concrete shells in architectural structures.

A career development no doubt helped by his nationality. On the one hand his thin, almost weightless structures provided a welcome aesthetic contrast to the solid architecture of the DDR, thus allowing for a bit of variety in the cityscapes: but they also used less resources. Something which could only appeal to the notoriously stretched DDR regime.

In addition to the Binz U.F.O. further Ulrich Müther highlights include the so-called Teepott restaurant in Warnemünde, the Café Seerose, Potsdam and the Zeiss Planetarium in Berlin.

Quite aside from the historical importance and aesthetic elegance of many of the projects, the construction principles explored and developed by Ulrich Müther during his career are more relevant than ever today. And worthy of an exhibition.

Ulrich Müther – In Beton Gegossen opens at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Am Weißenhof 30, 70191 Stuttgart, Germany on Thursday February 27th and runs until Monday April 7th

Ulrich Müther Binz

The Binz U.F.O., sorry lifeguard station by Ulrich Müther, a project featured in "Ulrich Müther – In Beton Gegossen" at the Architekturgalerie am Weißenhof, Stuttgart

“Konstantin Grcic – Panorama” at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany

A museal design exhibition can, in principle, have two perspectives: a look back or a look forward.

“Konstantin Grcic – Panorama” at the Vitra Design Museum aims to do both.

Part of the exhibition promising an overview of Grcic’s canon, the second part his vision of the future.

And this vision is, for us, the most enticing aspect of the exhibition.

Despite the obvious reduced clarity and easy comprehensibility of his designs Konstantin Grcic’s work is largely not about the object itself but the route taken, the objects raison d’etre and its context. As such Konstantin Grcic’s work is often underscored by a conceptual complexity that belies its visual simplicity.

We’re looking forward to seeing in how far Konstantin Grcic can and has transformed this design understanding into a coherent vision of the future.

Konstantin Grcic – Panorama opens at the Vitra Design Museum, Charles-Eames-Str. 2, 79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany on Saturday March 22nd and runs until Sunday September 14th

Konstantin Grcic - Panorama at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany

"Konstantin Grcic - Panorama" at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany

(smow) blog Design Calendar: February 13th 1926 – Happy Birthday Verner Panton!

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

It is almost certainly more by chance than design, but in the week that Verner Panton would have celebrated his 88th birthday the Vitra Design Museum Gallery opened an exhibition devoted to his inimitable Visiona 2 exhibition from 1970.

Presented as part of the warm up to the forthcoming “Panorama” exhibition from and by Konstantin Grcic, “Visiona 1970: Revisiting the Future” explores the background to and realisation of the Visiona 2 showcase, including an accessible, usable, sitonable recreation of the “Phantasy Landscape” element: arguably the best known component of Visiona 2, one of the clearest expressions of Panton’s ideas and one of the most enduring memorials to Verner Panton.

And as such one of the most fitting ways to celebrate the birthday of a designer and architect who has given us so many reasons to be thankful.

By way of our contribution to the festivities: a cake composed of miniature Panton Chairs as presented during the celebration of 20 years of the Vitra Design Museum Miniatures Collection at Hugo Boss Milan in 2012

Happy Birthday Verner Panton!

happy birthday verner panton

Happy Birthday Verner Panton (Cake courtesy of the Vitra Design Museum and Hugo Boss Milan)

25th January 1970 Visiona 2 Verner Panton Cologne

Phantasy Landscape by Verner Panton as presented at Visiona 2, Cologne in 1970 (Photo: © Verner Panton Design)

Lightopia Talk. Richard Sapper @ Vitra Design Museum. Reprise.

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Aside from the ability to accurately focus light, Richard Sapper had a further motivation in designing his Tizio lamp:

“Another problem was that I am a very disorganised person. On my desk there is no space to place a lamp, or at best one is forced to place it on the very edge, the rest of the table being covered with things that I probably don’t need, but which I can only store on my desk. In such a situation one needs a lamp with a long boom arm. To effortlessly move such a lamp one has the mechanical problem of finding a structural system, a mechanism, that allows a small diffuser to be moved without any resistance. There are two possible systems: a boom with a spring or one with counterweight. For me it was clear that an arm with a counterweight was the better option, the more natural.” Richard Sapper “Der Design-Prozeß” in Uta Brandes “Richard Sapper. Werkzeuge für das Leben” Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, 1993

A further piece of evidence to support the truly excellent research paper by Prof. Kathleen D. Vohs: “Physical Order Produces Healthy Choices, Generosity, and Conventionality, Whereas Disorder Produces Creativity”

Lightopia Talk. Richard Sapper – Lifetime Oeuvre takes place at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein on Thursday January 23rd at 6pm.

As before if you can make it, do.

Vitra Design Museum: Lightopia Talk. Richard Sapper – Lifetime Oeuvre.

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

With the winter solstice behind us and the days growing noticeably longer, the Vitra Design Museum exhibition Lightopia draws slowly towards its natural end.

But before the lights finally go out on March 9th there are still a few genuine highlights in the Fringe programme to be enjoyed, including on Thursday January 23rd a talk with and about the Milan based designer Richard Sapper.

Born in Munich in 1932 Richard Sapper has worked with and for companies as varied as Daimler-Benz, Kartell, Siemens and Alessi, has created televisions, telephones, chairs, espresso machines, bookcases and telephone boxes, in addition to perhaps his best known work – and unquestionably the basis for the invitation to the Vitra Design Museum – the 1972 lamp Tizio for Artemide.

The idea behind Tizio is as simple as it is egoistic “When working or reading I like it when the light only shines on the piece of paper in front of me, with the rest of the room in half-darkness. Under such conditions I feel myself more at ease and and can better concentrate.”1 That such a lamp didn’t exist, Richard Sapper designed it. And, fortuitously, Artemide were impressed enough to manufacture it.

Making use of a double articulated arm concept, the ingenuity of Tizio lies in the fact that the balance and movement of the two arms is regulated by a counterweight system. No springs, no steel cables, no screws to tighten. As such Tizio can be effortlessly moved into practically any position. With one finger if need be. This freedom of movement is aided by the lack of wires: the electricity flows through the frame, the mains electricity having first been converted to low voltage through a transformer in the base.

In addition, and appropriately given the part focus in Lightopia on the effects on lighting design of the EU’s decision to ban conventional light bulbs, Tizio was one of the first lighting objects to make use of a halogen lamp – a light source that in the 1970s was almost exclusively used in car headlamps. Or as Richard Sapper told the German Newspaper Die Zeit in 2010 “If you needed a new bulb for your Tizio, you went to the petrol station to buy one.”2

Unconventional as it is ingenious it took a while before the public were ready to accept the object. According to Artemide founder Ernesto Gismondi, in its first year on the market Tizio sold only 1000 examples, in the second year just 500.3 However in the intervening four decades Tizio has not only advanced to become one of the more popular and commercially successful lighting design objects, but also one of the most copied, and according to Gismondi Artemide pay a small fortune every year taking on the plagiarists. Wherever they find them.

In the course of the evening Richard Sapper will no doubt expound in more detail on all these aspects of Tizio, as well as talking more generally about his 60 years as an industrial designer and presenting his views on the current state of the design industry.

If you can make it, we would recommend you do.

Lightopia Talk. Richard Sapper – Lifetime Oeuvre takes place at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein on Thursday January 23rd at 6pm. Entrance is free.

1 Hans Höger “Die Tizio-Leuchte von Richard Sapper” Verlag form, Frankfurt am Main, 1997

2 Tillmann Prüfer, Designer Richard Sapper. Der Weltverbesserer. Die Zeit 09.04.2010 Accessed 15.01.2014

3 Uta Brandes “Richard Sapper. Werkzeuge für das Leben” Steidl Verlag, Göttingen, 1993

Richard Sapper Tizio Artemide

Tizio by Richard Sapper for Artemide

Vitra Design Museum Lightopia: Fringe Programme

Friday, October 11th, 2013

When we spoke to Marc Zehntner and Mateo Kries, the joint heads of the Vitra Design Museum, they told us that they hoped to make the institution “… a much more vibrant location that doesn’t just present exhibitions exploring the most important design themes and topics but much more asks question of the visitors and so becomes more of an experience.

The fringe programme to the current Vitra Design Museum exhibition Lightopia wonderfully demonstrates just what they meant, featuring as it does a series of talks, films, installations and excursions that explore light in more ways than you thought possible.

And in more locations.

For whereas normally the fringe programme contends itself to events at the main Vitra Campus base, for Lightopia the Vitra Design Museum have joined forces with the Haus für elektronische Künste Basel, the Literaturhaus Basel and the Mulhouse theatre La Filature to instigate the event series “Lichtlandschaften” , a programme of events throughout the Three Country Region of France, Switzerland and Germany.

The opening event was/is the light and sound installation California Sunshine by Alexandre Joly at HeK@Keck Kiosk Basel. Over the coming months the Lichtlandschaften programme features events as varied as “fire studies”, a light inspired audiovisual show by Hamburg-based electronic duo incite/ in the Haus für elektronische Künste Basel; “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Mouse” a light installation by Parisian artists Berger & Berger; and an evening of “Light in Literature” presented in the unique atmosphere of Carlos Cruz-Diez’s installation “Chromosaturation”, one of the Lightopia exhibits.

A further highlight, and indeed central component, of the “Lichtlandschaften” programme is and promises to be regular presentations of Canadian artist Chris Salter’s light and sound installation “N_Polytope: Behaviors in Light and Sound After Iannis Xenakis” in the Buckminster Fuller Dome.

Among the talks organised as part of the Lightopia Fringe Programme particular highlights for us include “Inventing Tolomeo” with Michele De Lucchi on Thursday October 17th, in which the background to one of the most ingenious, and instantly recognisable, pieces of lighting design will be explained by its creator; “Flames and Fashion” on November 14th in which light designer Moritz Waldemeyer discusses the role and importance of light in creating atmosphere and mood; while on Thursday January 23rd 2014 Richard Sapper looks back on his, not inconsiderable, light design canon.

Further highlights of the Vitra Design Museum Lightopia Fringe Programme include the workshop “ReDesign – Lights from Recycled Materials”, a tour through the exhibition with Vitra Design Museum Chief Conservator
Susanne Graner in which the specific problems of restoring and caring for lighting will be discussed and a visit to CERN in Meyrin and their particle accelerators where Prof. Jürg Schacher will answer the question “What is light?”

Which is of course something anyone planning viewing the exhibition should really know.

Full details on the Fringe Programme to Lightopia at the Vitra Design Museum can be found at

And as before a visit to Lightopia can be thoroughly recommended.

vitra design museum lightopia carlos cruz-diez chromosaturation

Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez ... location for an exploration of Light in Literature.

vitra design museum lightopia

Vitra Design Museum Lightopia

Vitra Design Museum: Lightopia

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

“My, my, my, Delilah! Why, why, why, Delilah!”

The morning of Friday September 27th 2013 was one of those misty autumn occasions that cause SANAA’s immense new Vitra Factory Building in Weil am Rhein to merge, almost unseen, with the grey background. Even Herzog & de Meuron’s new Basel Messe complex was reduced to nothing more grand than a continuation of the uncaring monotonous sky. The glitzing, shimmering palace of high summer just the weak shadow of a memory.

And so it was perhaps fitting that the Vitra Design Museum choose this dank September morn to open their latest exhibition, “Lightopia”, an exhibition devoted to light.

For today was a clear warning, in the coming months we will all be in need of a little light.

vitra design museum lightopia

Vitra Design Museum Lightopia

“She was my woman. As she deceived me I watched and went out of my mind”

Presenting some 300 objects, around a third of them lamps, lights or other illumination objects, Lightopia is an exploration of light, not lights. The difference is important.

One is a physical object. The other is an intangible matter. The designer’s job is transforming the latter into the former.

In his opening notes Vitra Design Museum Chef Curator Mateo Kries underscored the difference and noted both the cultural importance of light through the ages and also the increasing importance, relevance and standing of light design, thanks in part, though obviously not exclusively, to the EU’s decision to ban conventional light bulbs.

And such thoughts form the core of Lightopia. Organised into four sections the exhibition opens with “Living in Lightopia” which presents light in contemporary cultural and social contexts, including light pollution, the history of the light bulb, new lighting technology and new uses for light beyond illumination. The second section then presents “Icons of lighting design”, an exploration of 100 years of lighting design, starting with works by Gerrit T. Rietveld and Wilhelm Wagenfeld before moving over, almost, all the famous classics of the genre, including, George Carwardine’s 1932 Anglepoise, Tizio by Richard Sapper, Artichoke by Poul Henningsen and various works by Verner Panton before reaching 85 Lamps by Rody Graumans through droog.

Having set the scene the second half of Lightopia explores light in more detail.  “Colour, Space, Motion” explores light’s role in helping defining our world – positive and negative  – before in the final section “Light for tomorrow” contemporary experimental, future orientated lighting design projects are presented.

Throughout the exhibition the displayed objects are complimented by documents, videos and photographs which help set the works in context of time and place.

vitra design museum lightopia chris fraser slant

Slant by Chris Fraser. As seen at the Vitra Design Museum, Lightopia

“I could see that girl was no good for me. But I was lost like a slave that no man could free “

Aside from the wealth of objects on display, the real joy of Lightopia is that it isn’t just objects on display. They are a means to an end. A way to make accessible a subject that is as abstract as it is ubiquitous. Whereas in the past lighting design was generally about creating aesthetic, playful, functional, innovative objects for home and office the future of lighting design lies, as with all design genres, elsewhere.

And Lightopia is brave enough to tackle this “elsewhere”

Sadly for us this exploration of where the future of lighting design lies was one of the weaker parts of the exhibition. Laid out as a sort of laboratory on the upper floor of the Vitra Design Museum, the “Light for tomorrow” section was for us a little too busy. Too much. One could say not so well illuminated. It was for us unclear exactly what we were supposed to take from all the objects, projects and ideas on display: other than lots of contemporary designers are doing a lot of clever things with lights. Which was nice to see, but just as we say, for us a little to crowded. An overflowing cup as it were.

And much as we adore projects such as Fragile Future by Lonneke Gordijn & Ralph Nauta or Vase by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec, we really couldn’t understand why they were on display. Maybe we missed something, we often do, but for us the organisers would have been better advised to have reduced the number of modern applications covered. And to have covered them in more depth. Less famously being more.

“I felt the knife in my hand and she laughed no more. My, my, my Delilah. Why, why, why Delilah “

The central question, as so often, is what future role will and should designers play?

Light installations or the playful use of new materials in expensive design gallery projects and the like are all well and good, but don’t help those living in urban slums or isolated rural locations with no ready, reliable access to the electricity required to enable a standard of domestic lighting necessary for a meaningful, humane existence.

One of the objects on display is the “Light-Space Modulator” by László Moholy-Nagy. In 1944 Moholy-Nagy wrote: “To be a designer means not only to be a sensible manipulator of techniques, an analyst of the present production processes, but also to accept the social obligations connected with it. Thus design is dependent not alone on function, science and technological processes, but upon social implications as well.”1

And just as “Light-Space Modulator” makes no real positive contribution to social development, we didn’t see very much in Lightopia which showed exactly how contemporary designers are harnessing the potential of our modern technological and scientific understanding to either increase access to light or to encourage more responsible use of light. The social implications.

Yes there were and are projects, yes one can follow what is being presented, but we just somehow missed real examples of the transfer of research into practice. Or perhaps better put, a concentration on examples of the transfer of research into practice. Because only when someone benefits from research is research truly valuable.

vitra design museum lightopia carlos cruz-diez chromosaturation

Chromosaturation by Carlos Cruz-Diez. As seen at the Vitra Design Museum, Lightopia

“Forgive me Delilah I just couldn’t take any more. Forgive me Delilah I just couldn’t take any more”

The Smiths famously sang “There is a light that never goes out” and while such a lamp would unquestionably be a prime example of really, really bad design and so would rightly have no place in such an exhibition, the fact that light will always be required, and thus won’t/can’t be extinguished, is inescapable. Lightopia doesn’t, can’t provide all the answers as to how our future needs can or should be met. But then it doesn’t set out to. What it sets out to do is to present an exploration of the story of light and for all the role of design in the development of our contemporary relationship to and utilization of light, how lighting design has influenced modern living spaces and how it could influence such in the future, and the curators have achieved that in a well considered, well curated and very well realised show. If, as we say, at times one is a little swamped and overwhelmed.

And so with winter approaching should you find yourself in or near Weil am Rhein a visit to the Vitra Design Museum might just be the thing you need to lift your spirits.

And Delilah ?

As we were viewing the exhibition we were aware of a continual background soundtrack courtesy of Tom Jones. Wherever we went, Tom Jones was in the vacinity. We were unsure why until we reached what for most visitors is the middle of the exhibition; but, given the curious and unique way we view such shows is for us the end.
On the ground floor the organisers have reconstructed Cesare Casati, Emanuele Ponzio and Gino Marotta’s Bolzano nightclub “Il Grifoncino” as it was in 1968. Complete with music of the day. Three whole tunes: Delilah, Lady Madonna by the Beatles and that Italian tune everyone knows, no one can name and which sounds a bit like Eviva España.  Three songs on constant loop. Nice idea: we’re just glad we don’t have to spend all day every day working in the Vitra Design Museum exhibition space. The two hours that we were there being enough to lodge Tiger Tom’s account of a jealousy fuelled murder in our ever softening brains…..

We just felt duty bound to bring you a full impression of the exhibition experience.

Lightopia can be viewed at the Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein until Sunday March 16th 2014.

Full details can be found at

1. Moholy-Nagy, L “Design Potentialities” in New Architecture and City planning. A symposium. Ed Paul Zucker New York 1944.