Week 4: The Fellows Visit Vitra HQ

Have you been following our weekly recaps of the second annual Be Original Americas Student Design Fellowship?

Each week, Tom and Irene will be answering a few questions to recap their experience and provide an insider’s look at what they’re learning. (Catch up with the previous weeks here)

In Week 4, Tom and Irene traveled to the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany and the company’s offices in Birsfelden, Switzerland. The Fellows spent the week immersed in all things Vitra, learning about everything from product development and testing to marketing to PR and more.

The Vitra Slide Tower by the German artist Carsten Höller

You got to see and experience a lot of Vitra’s campus in Germany. What was your favorite part? What was your biggest takeaway? Was there anything that surprised you?

Irene: Vitra was definitely a “good host,” as the Eames mantra goes. We were welcomed onto the campus and surrounded by amazing architecture, iconic design products, and passionate people. Our days consisted of touring through Zaha Hadid’s fire station, learning about the evolution of the Panton chair in the Schaudepot, visiting the headquarters to have an active dialogue about original design, and the list goes on. Throughout the range of experiences, a common thread I found to be true is Vitra’s dedication to integrating a story and process in its endeavors. By communicating those stories, Vitra hopes to educate and immerse consumers with the cultural legacy of the brand.

The Panton chair in the Schaudepot

I believe that one of the most successful things that Vitra does is opening up the campus to the public and allowing individuals to develop their definition of originality through experience. As an outsider looking in, the manufacturing process for chairs and the endless number of tests done on them was surprising. From redefining a method of upholstering through welding to back durability and UV testing, Vitra invests in innovation and creates for longevity through generations.

I can’t seem to choose a favorite part of my visit to Vitra because it was so holistic. Choosing one would deny the relationships each sight and each conversation had with the other. However, through each day, I was able to absorb the affirmative spirit Vitra upholds in celebrating the power of good design. My three days there were thought provoking and I hope to apply what I have learned to research, create, and sustain good design in my education and career. Thank you, Vitra so much for the wonderful experience!

Behind the scenes at Vitra HQ, as captured by Irene Lee

Tom: This was the first time we have been able to spend this long with a single company, and everyone worked incredibly hard to make sure that the three days we had on the campus were packed with meetings and experiences. There was so much to process that I am still catching up, to be honest! The access Vitra gave us to their process was unbelievable – everything from marketing and strategy through to the production facilities. It was amazing to have such an honest and candid view of the inside workings of such a renowned company. All of the great conversations gave me so much to think about around the concepts of authenticity and originality. We were also able to have honest discussions around how the business functions and how it functions as both a B2B and B2C company, which led to some interesting thoughts around messaging and communicating with a varied global audience with one voice.

This year’s fellows visit Vitra, where they got a look at all parts of the design process.

The access Vitra gave us to their process was unbelievable – everything from marketing and strategy through to the production facilities. It was amazing to have such an honest and candid view of the inside workings of such a renowned company. All of the great conversations gave me so much to think about around the concepts of authenticity and originality. We were also able to have honest discussions around how the business functions and how it functions as both a B2B and B2C company, which led to some interesting thoughts around messaging and communicating with a varied global audience with one voice.

It’s really hard to pick a favorite part of the whole experience. I think the architecture of the campus has to be up there, it really makes you understand the principals of the company as a project. It’s an idea which permeates every aspect of the company and makes it more than just a brand, but instead a cultural movement which has had a deep and lasting effect on the world of design and architecture.

Another view inside the Schaudepot, designed by Herzog & de Meuron

The Schaudepot has to be up there also—to see so many (400) iconic pieces of furniture in such a small space is incredibly impactful, especially as most of them I had only ever seen in books and never thought I would have the chance to see in the flesh. Finally, on the last evening, I decided to join the citizens of Basel, participating in something we had watched them do for the pay few days. I’ll never forget floating down the Rhine under old stone bridges on a Sunny evening in July as long as I live.

On the Rhine near Vitra’s Campus

Stay tuned for more from Tom and Irene, the 2017 Be Original Americas Student Design Fellows, as they recap their experiences each week here on the blog and on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

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