Vitra has manufactured furniture designs by Charles & Ray Eames and George Nelson since 1957. Building on this foundation, Vitra has developed a wide range of furnishings for the office, for the home and for public spaces in collaboration with progressive designers. Yet Vitra is more than just a design-oriented manufacturing company. The name also stands for the Vitra Design Museum, for a collection of modern furniture and its accompanying archive, for workshops and publications on topics of design, and for an architectural concept that unites buildings by Frank Gehry, Nicholas Grimshaw, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando, Alvaro Siza, Herzog & de Meuron and SANAA at the Vitra Headquarters in Birsfelden (Switzerland) and on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein (Germany).
Product longevity is central to Vitra's contribution to sustainable development; short-lived styling is avoided at all costs. This can be seen most clearly in the classical pieces of furniture that have been used for decades, had several owners and have then even ended up as a part of a collection. For Vitra, the manufacture of sustainable products means intense pre-production development, where the highest-grade materials are selected and tests are carried out that simulate 15 years of use. In order to enforce and monitor sustainable development in all business activities of the company, a work group was formed in 1986 by the name of 'Vitra and the Environment'. Because of this, Vitra can proudly claim that it has been dedicated to sustainability for nearly a quarter of a century.
When writing about the course of his remarkable 50-year career, George Nelson described a series of creative "zaps" — moments of out-of-the-blue inspiration "when the solitary individual finds he is connected with a reality he never dreamed of."
An early zap came in the 1930s, when he was an architectural student in Rome. Before returning home, an idea struck him: He would travel Europe and interview leading modern architects, hoping to get the articles published in the U.S. He succeeded, and in the process introduced the U.S. design community to the European avant-garde. This set in motion a sequence of what he called "lucky" career breaks that were really the inevitable outcomes of his brilliance as a designer, teacher, and author.
The first break was being named an editor of Architectural Forum magazine. Working on a story there in 1942, he was looking at aerial photos of blighted cities when--zap!--he developed the concept of the downtown pedestrian mall, which was unveiled in the Saturday Evening Post.
Soon after, another zap led to the Storagewall, the first modular storage system and a forerunner of systems furniture. The Storagewall was showcased in a 1945 Life magazine article, causing a sensation in the furniture industry. Herman Miller founder D.J. DePree saw the article and was so impressed that he paid a visit to Nelson in New York and convinced him to be his director of design, which spurred Nelson to found his design firm, George Nelson & Associates. The warm personal and professional relationship between Nelson and DePree yielded a stunning range of products, from the playful Marshmallow Sofa to the first L-shaped desk, a precursor of today's workstation.
Nelson once wrote that Herman Miller "is not playing follow-the-leader." That's one reason why George Nelson & Associates worked with Herman Miller for over 25 years as they shepherded design into the modern era.
During this same period, George Nelson & Associates also created many landmark designs of products, showrooms, and exhibitions for a variety of companies and organizations.
Nelson said that for a designer to deal creatively with human needs, "he must first make a radical, conscious break with all values he identifies as antihuman." Designers also must constantly be aware of the consequences of their actions on people and society. In fact, he declared that "total design is nothing more or less than a process of relating everything to everything." So he said that rather than specializing, designers must cultivate a broad base of knowledge and understanding.
Prix de Rome for architecture, 1932
Best Office of the Year, New York Times, 1953
Gold Medal, Art Directors Club of New York, 1953
Good Design Award, Museum of Modern Art, 1954
Trailblazer Award, National Home Furnishings League, 1954
Chairman, International Design Conference in Aspen, 1965, 1982
Scholar in Residence, Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Design, 1984
Lifetime Achievement Award, American Institute of Graphic Arts, 1991
Permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Brooklyn Museum of Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Nelson did so as few are able, and, with the help of well-timed zaps, he helped define modern, humane design.
- from HermanMiller.comView other products by George Nelson