The Schaudepot was initiated with the goal of making the constantly growing collection of the Vitra Design Museum more accessible to the public. The cornerstone for the collection was laid by the museum’s founder Rolf Fehlbaum. In the 1980s he assembled a collection of furniture, which he transferred to the Vitra Design Museum upon its founding in 1989. Ever since, the collection has been expanded by the museum’s directors Alexander von Vegesack (1989 to 2010) and Mateo Kries and Marc Zehntner (since 2011) together with Rolf Fehlbaum and now numbers among the largest of its kind.
Today the collection of the Vitra Design Museum encompasses a total of around 20 000 objects. The core is formed by the furniture holdings, with some 7000 pieces covering almost all important epochs and protagonists of design from 1800 to the present. A second focal point is the lighting collection, which contains more than 1000 objects by such designers as Gino Sarfatti, Achille Castiglioni, Serge Mouille or Ingo Maurer. Further holdings include electrical appliances, architectural models and textiles as well as objects of everyday use. The museum’s archive comprises about 100 000 units, including several significant estates, such as those of Charles & Ray Eames, Verner Panton and Alexander Girard. The goal of the collection is to document the past and present of the interior and foster research in a broader context.
The presentation at the Schaudepot is divided into three areas with a total of around 1600 sqm. The ground floor contains the main hall where the extensive permanent exhibition is shown. The central focus is a selection of more than 400 key pieces of furniture design, including rare works by such designers as Gerrit Rietveld, Alvar Aalto, Charles & Ray Eames or Ettore Sottsass, but also lesser-known or anonymous objects, prototypes and experimental models. The selection reflects the main areas of emphasis and key pieces of the museum collection while simultaneously providing a comprehensive overview of the history of furniture design – from stylistic and technical innovations to the societal transformations reflected in the objects. Detailed information on the objects is communicated in a digital catalogue that Schaudepot visitors can call up via smartphone or tablets that can be loaned.
While the permanent exhibition in the main hall of the Schaudepot is structured chronologically, the glimpses of the other collection holdings on the lower ground level present thematic focal points and offer a view behind the scenes of the museum where conservators and curators deal with objects from the collection on a daily basis. Other aspects of the Schaudepot also serve to make museum work more comprehensible and accessible to the public. From the café, guests can see into the museum offices and the library, which is open to researchers and students on request. The restoration workshop can also be viewed on guided tours. The Schaudepot thus creates a »transparent« design museum, which opens up the research of design in all its many facets to a wider public.
On one hand, the Vitra Design Museum is raising the awareness of furniture design as the focus of its collection and making it accessible to visitors and scholars. On the other, it is responding to a characteristic development in the world of design and museums today. Contemporary design surrounds us in all aspects of life – from iconic furniture objects to digital communication and social processes. A design museum in the twenty-first century must therefore not merely collect and exhibit objects, but also needs to communicate the significance of design beyond the individual object by initiating discussions, demonstrating social correlations and establishing references to other areas such as architecture, art or new technologies. With the expansion related to the Schaudepot, the Vitra Design Museum is specifically addressing this development and disseminating design in the same breadth and diversity with which it presents itself in our world today.