By Gerrit Terstiege.
In November 2019, the Vitra Design Museum launched a fundamental work of encyclopaedic proportions on the history of modern furniture design. With more than 1,000 pages, the „Atlas of Furniture Design“ is the most comprehensive book ever published on this subject. A review by Gerrit Terstiege.
Design books must often be approached with caution, especially if they are big and heavy. Dainty coffee tables may buckle under their weight, or – perhaps more importantly – when you open them, you may soon realise that their gargantuan dimension is merely the by-product of oversized images and minuscule text.
The recently published “Atlas of Furniture Design” does not fall into this category. This magnum opus is published by the Vitra Design Museum – more specifically, Mateo Kries and Jochen Eisenbrand. Founded in 1989, the museum holds one of the world’s largest collections of furniture, lights and accessories, which forms the natural basis for the book. This is an important point, because all too often in the world of design, books are based on images, instead of the actual objects. This can be misleading because some details can only be seen when viewing the physical object. Being able to access the collection itself meant the photographs were of a much higher quality, as even rare chairs dating back centuries were able to be accurately captured and presented in a uniform manner.
A collaborative project of Herculean proportions
Let’s quote some numbers to give you an idea of just what has been created here after more than 20 years of research – and, of course, a much longer-term commitment to collecting embodies by the “Vitra Chairman Emeritus” Rolf Fehlbaum: with 1,028 pages, this is the most comprehensive publication of its kind. The atlas documents 1,740 objects by more than 540 designers, containing more than 2,800 images of chairs, armchairs, stools, loungers, tables and shelves from over the last 230 years, as well as design drawings, patents and interiors.
More than 70 authors have contributed to this Herculean project, with three companies and four foundations supporting the work over many years. The clear, modern layout by Kobi Benezri ensures that this is anything but a dry reference book. Originally from Jerusalem, Benezri moved to Zurich where he initially worked as Art Director of the American design magazine I.D. After a number of years he set up his own business, and has already produced highly successful designs for books about Dieter Rams, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.
A cultural and historical adventure
One thing is certain: The atlas will become a reference for researching and teaching the history of design. And the discoveries that can be made here will even inspire those who previously believed they already knew everything, from Gropius to Grcic. In fact there’s so much more to learn! Looking beyond the all-too-familiar classics, furniture design can also be seen as a cultural and historical adventure – full of achievements and setbacks, bold ventures and journeys into the unknown.
Gerrit Terstiege was the editor-in-chief of the design magazine form for many years. He has published three books on design theory and practice, and has been teaching at various universities in Germany and Switzerland for 20 years. Terstiege lives in Freiburg and writes regularly for magazines, websites and agencies.
The atlas was published on 1 November 2019 and is available online at Vitra Design Museum and in selected book stores.
Atlas des Möbeldesigns
Ed. Mateo Kries, Jochen Eisenbrand
Format: Hardcover, 23,5 x 31 cm
Language editions: German, English
ISBN (German edition): 978-3-931936-98-3
German RRP: € 159.90 (incl. VAT)
Publisher: Vitra Design Museum
Design: Kobi Benezri Studio
Authors (selection): Alberto Bassi, Jochen Eisenbrand, Fulvio Ferrari, Mateo Kries, Otakar Máčel, Jane Pavitt, Ingeborg de Roode, Catharine Rossi, Arthur Rüegg, Penny Sparke, Deyan Sudjic, Wolf Tegethoff, Carsten Thau und Kjeld Vindum, Gerald W. R. Ward among others.
© Vitra Design Museum, photos: Ludger Paffrath