Victor Papanek, a life on show at the Vitra Campus


The place where this interesting exhibition has been set up is truly something special: the Vitra Campus is, technically, located in Germany, but you can make a trip to France or Switzerland, in nearby Basel, crossing the borders at a moment’s notice.

The Vitra Design Museum hosts a unique and unprecedented exhibition (until 10 March 2019) about the designer, activist, anthropologist, author and teacher, Victor Papanek.

Victor Papanek is the author of the most widely read design book ever published (“Design for the Real World”, 1973), as well as a true pioneer of sustainable, critical, and responsible design, what we can now define as “conscious design”.

The exhibition “Victor Papanek: The Politics of Design” allows you to experience a unique atmosphere, immersing yourself in the world of design – and not just because of its incredible location.

Who is Victor Papanek?

Born in Vienna in 1923, Victor J. Papanek emigrated to the United States in 1939. After studying at Cooper Union and MIT, he was also a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and a colleague of Richard Buckminster Fuller. In the USA he had a great career in industrial design, thanks also to his Design Clinic, a company that had the objective of creating economically sustainable furnishings that could meet the real needs of American citizens.

Papanek is known for developing some very innovative ideas regarding design, disseminating his vision through television and radio, as well as transmitting it to students in his lectures. The critique of consumerism and the concept of design as a process, something that goes beyond a single object, is what has made him a role model in this sector since the Sixties.

Papanek’s design is very practical, with a very concise way of communicating; so much so that he could even be consider one of the first designers and authors to apply the concept of “less is more”.

His life was not simply dedicated to design: Papanek was committed to fighting for a different interpretation of design, making it more critical, more correct, a better witness of current events and contemporaneity.

His life is perfectly narrated in the first and second section of the exhibition at the Vitra Design Museum, which, in addition to a multimedia installation, displays letters, documents, texts, newspaper articles, posters and much more in order to describe Papanek’s career, from his first years in the USA until the last years of his life.

“Everything is connected”: design as connection

Papanek claimed that design goes beyond a single object: it is a process; something that surrounds us all, touching everything; a system that interacts with multiple disciplines.

That’s why the last section of the exhibition hosts the works of contemporary and visionary artists from all over the world. Papanek’s ideas are represented through projects by Catherine Sarah Young, Forensic Architecture, Jim Chuchu, Tomás Saraceno, Gabriel Ann Mahere and others. They, too, confront important issues such as climate change, gender identity, consumerism, sustainability, war.

The Vitra Design Museum exhibition is a reflection on the concept of design, which is not simply the act of giving shape to something, but instead can become an instrument of political, social and ethical transformation.

Emanuela Zini
Emanuela Zini
My professional life has been marked by several big changes that made me grow as a person and as a leader, develop new skills and mental flexibility, which in turn allows me to face challenges from a different, unique perspective. To me, writing represent a way to communicate with myself and with others. Telling stories and engaging my readers are the challenges that I am currently facing within a wider editorial project.

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