Vending Machine by Baker Wardlaw

For Miami/Basel 2013, three Swiss designers commissioned seven artists to reimagine the classic Verbier ski gondolas as works of art. Wardlaw converted the chair lift into a giant-sized gumball machine, seen here.

Vending Machine by Baker Wardlaw

Vending Machine is the series’ most playful reinvention, but also the most literal: Christie’s auctioned off the gondolas, and the money will go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Switzerland.

Transformers by Nicolas Le Moigne

Le Moigne, inspired the The Transformers television show, opted to preserve the gondola’s utilitarian purpose by reassembling it into a table.

Screen by Jörg Boner and Lela Scherrer

The privacy screen, made up of just the chair lift’s doors, is slightly more metaphorical: when you enter a gondola, you may shed a layer of ski wear. Once you step back out, into the cold, it’s time to dress again.

Screen by Jörg Boner and Lela Scherrer

The designers secured the 1970s-era gondolas from Televerbier, when they announced that they would be dismantling a line of the lifts. Initial plans to redesign 40 lifts were scaled down when construction plans met delays. Instead, the artists shared the few resources they had, and found creative ways to deconstruct four, instead of 40, gondolas.

Rock by Adrien Rovero

At first glance Rovero’s design barely registers as a new creation. On closer inspection, though, he’s turned the gondola into a rocking chair.

Rock by Adrien Rovero

Rock evokes the gondolas most often found at zoos, swaying above the park on a cable line.

Artefact by Philippe Cramer

The most abstract, deconstructed piece in the series includes only the bright blue Plexiglas windows from the original gondolas.

La Cabina del Papà by Atelier Oï

Inspired by how the chair lifts move through the air between mountain summits, Atelier Oï transformed the gondola into a fantastical air craft, that uses centrifugal force to spin around.

Levitation by Anoush Abrar

Abrar’s piece is the only 2D one among the series. He photographed the gondola in its original state, but set among a burst of cloud.

Levitation by Anoush Abrar

The image looks like the gondola was either set off by dynamite, or is floating away into the universe. In either version, the gondola is in the sky, set free from its cable lines.


Retro Swiss Ski Gondolas, Creatively Reinvented By Artists

In Revisiting a Swiss Icon, seven gondolas from the 1970s are reincarnated into art.

We’re accustomed to riding gondolas in ski resorts and theme parks around the world. Lately, they’re also cropping up in proposals for aerial mass transit in urban areas such as Austin, Texas. Medellín slums also now have chair lifts carting families safely up and down steep hillsides. But no matter how far they travel, gondolas will remain steadfastly Swiss. (Look no further than Google’s Zurich offices for proof.)

The Verbier cable car, in particular, is an iconic piece of Swiss industrial design. "They are one of the gondolas we most find around the world," says Albert Schrurs, an architect and co-founder of Verbier Mountain Climbers. "We like to say that we can even find them in the New York Bronx Zoo."

So when the ski company Televerbier announced that it would be dismantling a line of the 40-year-old lifts, Schrurs and two other designer-entrepreneurs—Inès Flammarion and Nicolas Bernheim—salvaged the artifacts and asked a group of seven enterprising Swiss designers to give them colorful second lives. The original design speaks to the 1970s era of mass production: A boxy, hexagonal shell is outfitted with bright blue Plexiglas windows. The new gondolas, as envisioned by the artists and on display at Miami’s Art Basel 2013 last week, run the gamut. Atelier Oï reincarnated one chair lift into a jellyfish-like fictional aircraft, set for flight. Nicolas Le Moigne converted gondola scraps into a dining room table. And Baker Wardlaw went all Wonka by turning the lift into a jumbo-sized gumball vending machine.

Revisiting a Swiss Icon is a playful way to save outmoded infrastructure from ending up in a landfill, but the project isn’t just about salvaging. Initially, Verbier Mountain Climbers expected to have enough gondolas available for 40 artists to decorate so that Christie’s could auction them off for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

When construction on the new ski lines met delays, the designers could only acquire four of the promised 40 cable cars. But instead of scrapping the idea, the restraints fostered a creativity that has a deconstructed element: One piece, by Jörg Boner and Lela Scherrer, uses the siding of the cart to create a standing privacy screen. Philippe Cramer’s iteration puts the blue Plexiglas screens on bold display. And the seventh creation isn’t even a new draft of the old gondola; it’s a photograph. Anoush Abrar captures the ski lift levitating on a cumulus cloud, in what looks like some kind of gondola heaven.

Read more about Verbier Mountain Climbers here.

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