Vitra Campus: a model for the new museum?

A few weeks ago I finally made it out to Weil am Rhein, Germany, and stepped into the amazing world of the Vitra Campus and Vitra Design Museum.

The Vitra Design Campus is not just a museum – it’s a public playing-field, designed as journey through  industrial design and architecture and a hub landscape of the world’s leading architects. But it is also a place to learn, play, eat, and drink.

Museums exist to create interest

“Museums are no longer a compulsory cultural exercise, but can generate enthusiasm and interest in topics such as design and architecture that surround us in our daily lives” (Alex Coles, 2012)

In the Vitra Museum shop I thumbed through a copy of “The Transdisciplinary Studio” by Alex Coles. His foreword talks a lot about Vitra Campus as a new model (in the post-post-studio age), but it is also an interesting reflection on museums and cultural management in the 21st century.

VitraHaus by architects Herzog & de Meuron

I have found myself in many historic sites and museums around the world. But they are often all about the collection, and sometime a bit dark, dusty, and old-fashioned.

Most people are there to tick it off their “mandatory” tourist trip list, but it’s not really “fun”.

In contrast, industrial design and art museums and expos somehow manage to market themselves as cutting edge, fashionable, fresh. There is a vibrancy that calls people back, and something about Vitra Design Campus makes it outclass the rest.

5 things that make Vitra a great experience

  1. It’s minimalist. Everything is clean and white. It doesn’t give you museum legs (although the campus is huge). When you walk around the collection you know what to look at, when and where. The collection in each building is focused and limited. The leaflets and magazines are bright and colourful and easy to read.
  2. It’s user-friendly. There are campus tours and guided tours for different experts, but you can also follow the curation on your own even as a complete amateur.
  3. It’s accessible. Sure, some collections are protected, but it is done in a way that feels warm and engaging. There is no sense of hidden stock and dusty depositories that are off-limits. Even the Vitra Schaudepot (warehouse) is open to the public and set up as an exposition.
  4. It’s built to create fun. There is a huge restaurant full of families enjoying the recreational space, a gigantic 10m slide, lounge chairs all around the campus. The entire space has been built with a focus on the visitor experience whether you’re a design expert or simply a family looking for a day out.
  5. & It has an awesome gift shop full of fun, kitsch games. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think everything in every museum should be judged on its games. But there is something about the choice of gift shop items that seems to reflect on the culture of a museum. It should inspire interest and desire in the topics so people can share the story.  So, when your souvenirs are things that an adult wants to buy for a friend, you know you’re onto something.
Vitra Schaudepot
Vitra Slide Tower
House of Cards, designed by Charle Eames
Culture A Memory Game by School of Life

Oh and in case….the School of Life Culture Games can be found online as well.