T+L Design Awards 2013
Rolf Fehlbaum, Chairman of Vitra
In 1981, a fire destroyed most of the production facilities at the venerable furniture manufacturer Vitra. This was in Weil am Rhein, Germany, just outside Basel, Switzerland, where the company had been making chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames and George Nelson since the 1950’s. The fire was a turning point: Rolf Fehlbaum had only recently taken the reins at the company founded by his parents; he had traveled widely and worked in film and architecture, and wanted to bring new international designers and ideas to the business. He hired the English architect Nicholas Grimshaw to design a new factory building, and soon after asked Frank Gehry to design both a factory and a museum—his first buildings outside the United States. More seminal commissions followed over the years, including singular, innovative buildings from Zaha Hadid (her first ever), Tadao Ando (his first outside Japan), and Herzog & de Meuron. Today the Vitra Campus is a significant travel destination, and Rolf Fehlbaum is T+L’s 2013 Design Champion, representing the boundary-breaking, transformative power of both design and travel.