Design's Greatest Hits: The New Vitra Design Museum

A look at the museum's sleek new facility.

As corporations go, Vitra stakes rare ground between cultural stewardship and commercial profitability. In addition to making design classics by the likes of Charles and Ray Eames, the Swiss furniture manufacturer has been documenting the entire modern movement through the museum it founded in 1989. Its permanent collection of objects and archives is on public view for the first time in the Schaudepot, a gallery by Herzog & de Meuron that resembles a child’s drawing of a warehouse. Located on the Vitra Campus near Basel, Switzerland, the new facility is startlingly plain compared with the insta-landmarks the company has commissioned for the campus, such as the zigzagging fire station completed by Zaha Hadid or even the precarious stack of showrooms that Herzog & de Meuron erected on-site six years ago. “We aimed for something simple. New architects would probably have tried to create a spectacle,” says museum codirector Mateo Kries on why they invited Herzog back. In presenting the collection, the curators avoid the obvious crowd-pleasing gestures (think Mad Men–style vignettes) and instead show a mix of canonical works, prototypes, and everyday material culture (ladder-back and Windsor chairs) installed on storage racks with minimal labeling. Kries prefers the austerity: “Design is intertwined with so many other fields that we wanted to allow different readings of its history.” Both the Vitra Design Museum and the Schaudepot are open daily; design-museum.de.