A decade ago, Vitra initiated a research project in collaboration with the Dutch designer Hella Jongerius to study the properties and possibilities of the colours, textures, finishes and materials in the company’s product portfolio. This long-term project resulted in the Vitra Colour & Material Library, which came to life during Milan Design Week 2016 in Vitra’s ‘Colour Machine’ installation at the temporary location CasaVitra.
Vitra Colour & Material Library
In 2007 Vitra started to develop the Vitra Colour & Material Library in cooperation with Hella Jongerius. ‘The goal of the joint project is to establish an intelligent system of colours, materials and textiles that makes it easy to create rich environments in offices, homes or public spaces’, says Eckart Maise, Vitra’s Chief Design Officer. The resulting colour and material scheme serves to emphasise or refresh the special character of both classic and contemporary designs in the collection.
In her role as Art Director for colours and materials, Hella Jongerius creates designer-specific colour and material worlds in collaboration with Vitra’s contemporary designers and the company’s development team. Simultaneously, updates of the classics are developed in consultation with their originators’ descendants. Taken all together, the designer-specific libraries result in a wide range of Vitra colours, which have a classification scheme that makes it possible to combine furnishings in vibrant and expressive collages. Each product is given the greatest expressive power possible, yet still blends in well with other pieces, creating a harmonious overall arrangement without forfeiting any of the product’s intensity.
‘The concept of the Vitra Colour & Material Library starts with organising all colours in four contrasting colour worlds: the reds, the lights, the greens and the darks’, explains Hella Jongerius. ‘The library is like a living and growing organism – no colour is static, everything is open to change. The internal structure of the colour wheels keeps many options open. A wheel can remain incomplete, colours come and go, and this incompleteness engenders openness. There is no room, however, for thoughtless coincidences. Every choice is inspired and consciously determined’, she continues.
The Colour & Material Library is an intelligent and dynamic system. Vitra’s textile collection is at the heart of the library, which offers a wide selection of Vitra-exclusive fabrics. For decades Vitra has been developing its own fabrics, which combine a strong technical performance with high aesthetic quality for use in homes and offices. Vitra is convinced that textiles give a piece of furniture an important signature. Accordingly the Swiss company is constantly expanding its range of fabrics, aiming at a greater crossover between home and office products.
But the library also includes solid materials – thus, it comprises the colours and textures of plastics, metals, wood and leather. Together all these materials form a system with countless possible combinations but a coherence and connection that makes it easy for architects, interior designers or private clients to define a lively interior collage with a strong identity.
‘Vitra set up a Colour & Materials team responsible for building and managing the library. In a multiyear project, hundreds of new references were created and applied to Vitra’s wide product range. Product by product, a dialogue with the designers, product management and technical teams has resulted in a process of designing, prototyping and finally defining new or updated versions full of life and energy. The Vitra Colour & Material Library is not yet complete and will continuously grow and become even more refined’, comments Eckart Maise.
‘Colour Machine’ at CasaVitra
During Milan Design Week 2016, Vitra moved into a temporary location as part of the Fuorisalone events in Milan’s city centre: CasaVitra, situated in the vicinity of Corso Como, showcased the installation ‘Colour Machine’, which was dedicated to the Vitra Colour & Material Library.
The installation reflected the continuous refinement of the Vitra Colour & Material Library into a group of beautifully crafted fabrics and other materials that are specific to the Vitra product group. ‘A colour can lift a product to greater heights by accentuating a material or emphasising certain details. I want people to recognise Vitra not only by product or form, but also by the material and surface’, explains Hella Jongerius.
At CasaVitra, visitors encountered giant spinning tops twirling on the floor, which presented the full range of Vitra materials in four colour worlds: lights, darks, greens and reds. These four worlds formed the foundation of the library, organising textiles, plastics, woods and colours in many sizes and shapes. Suspended from the ceiling above the spinning tops, nine colour wheels revolved in space. These wheels celebrated particular parts of contemporary and classic furniture pieces by iconic Vitra designers – such as the base of Prouvé’s EM Table or Eames Plastic Chair shells – each in their own signature colours.
The wheels offered insights into the way colour is affected by volume, shape and material, and how much these elements influence one another. Whether a surface is shiny or matte, large or small determines how loudly something shouts or how softly it whispers.
Wandering through the installation, visitors were immersed in an engaging polychromatic experience of the rich Vitra colour world. They were invited to touch diverse textiles, give a whirl to one of the colour wheels and inspect new materials up close on the flat spinning tops. Colour ranges revolved in a dynamic interplay of hues, materials come to life, and the process of building the library was mapped out.
‘My goal is to call attention to colour as an ever-changing entity. Questioning colour’s appearance, our relationship to it and speculating about its nature, is in essence a never-ending process. There are no mistakes in choosing colours, only variations of subjective expressions. A good colour library, though, can help make a decision’, states Hella Jongerius.
Art Direction: Hella Jongerius
Installation Concept and Design by Bas van Tol, MüllerVanTol
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Notes to Editors
Creating innovative products and concepts with great designers is Vitra’s essence. They are developed in Switzerland and installed worldwide by architects, companies and private users to build inspirational spaces for living, working and shopping as well as public areas.
With its classics Vitra represents groundbreaking 20th century design. Today, in combining technical and conceptual expertise with the creativity of contemporary designers, Vitra seeks to continue pushing the boundaries of the design discipline.
A family business for eighty years, Vitra believes in lasting relationships with customers, employees and designers, durable products, sustainable growth and the power of good design.
The Vitra Campus with buildings by some of the world’s leading architects and the Vitra Design Museum with its exhibitions on design and architecture, design archives and a comprehensive furniture collection are all part of Vitra. They inspire visitors, inform the design process and create an atmosphere in which innovation flourishes.