Until recently, the first thing visitors noticed upon arriving at the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein was the Vitra Design Museum, a building designed by Frank Gehry. Now a new building, which has been erected next to the museum, is destined to attract just as much attention: the VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron. In close proximity to the Swiss border and the furniture manufacture’s Basel headquarters, Vitra has created a new domicile for its Home Collection in Weil am Rhein, Germany.
The VitraHaus invites visitors to explore,define and refine their sense of design. A visit to the VitraHaus is like taking a trip through design history, but it also offers the opportunity to encounter the work of leading contemporary designers. The furnishings and objects from the Vitra Home Collection are arranged in a variety of settings for both living and working: classics by Charles & Ray Eames, George Nelson, Isamu Noguchi, Jean Prouvé and Verner Panton are combined with contemporary designs by Maarten Van Severen, Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec, Antonio Citterio, Hella Jongerius, Jasper Morrison and others. Visitors can gain inspiration for the furnishing of their own home, explore their own preferences in design, try out the furniture and objects on display, and order or purchase products on site.
In addition, the VitraHaus offers insights into production methods and quality control. It demonstrates Vitra’s commitment to sustainability and illuminates the world of work and office chairs. A colour laboratory aids visitors in the choice of suitable colours. The “Vitrine” in the VitraHaus shows a selection of chair designs from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, thereby giving a view of the extensive holdings in the Vitra Design Museum Collection. The Vitra Design Museum Shop contains a curated selection of objects, accessories and books, which can be purchased directly. In the VitraHaus Café, visitors can plan the rest of their visit to the Vitra Campus.
The concept of the VitraHaus connects two themes that appear repeatedly in the oeuvre of Herzog & de Meuron: the theme of the archetypal house and the theme of stacked volumes. The individual ‘houses’, which have the general characteristics of a display space, are conceived as abstract elements. With just a few exceptions, only the gable ends are glazed, and the structural volumes seem to have been shaped with an extrusion press. Stacked into a total of five storeys and breathtakingly cantilevered up to fifteen metres in some places, the twelve houses, whose floor slabs intersect the underlying gables, create a three-dimensional assemblage – a pile of houses that, at first glance, has an almost chaotic appearance.
The charcoal colour of the exterior stucco skin unifies the structure, ‘earths’ it and connects it to the surrounding landscape. Like a small, vertically layered city, the VitraHaus functions as an entryway to the Campus. A wooden plank floor defines an open central area, around which five buildings are grouped: a conference area, an exhibition space for the chair collection of the Vitra Design Museum and a conglomerate comprising the Vitra Design Museum Shop, the lobby with a reception area and cloakroom, and a café with an outdoor terrace for summer use.
A lift takes visitors to the fourth storey, where the circular tour begins. Upon exiting the lift, the glazed northern end of the room offers a spectacular view of the Tüllinger Hill. The opposite end – where the glass front is recessed to create an exterior terrace – opens to a panorama of Basel with the industrial facilities of the pharmaceutical sector. As one discovers on the path through the VitraHaus, the directional orientation of the houses is hardly arbitrary, but is determined by the views of the surrounding landscape. The complexity of the interior space arises not only from the angular intersection of the individual houses but also from the integration of a second geometrical concept.
All of the staircases are integrated into expansive, winding organic volumes that figuratively eat their way through the various levels of the building like a worm, sometimes revealing fascinating visual relationships between the various houses, at other times blocking the view. The interior walls are finished in white in order to give priority to the furniture displays. With maximum dimensions of 57 metres in length, 54 metres in width and 21.3 metres in height, the VitraHaus rises above the other buildings on the Vitra Campus. The deliberate intention was not to create a horizontal building, the common type for production facilities, but rather a vertically oriented structure with a small footprint, which grants an overview in multiple senses: an overview of the surrounding landscape and the factory premises, but also an overview of the Home Collection.
With the VitraHaus, there is a sense of “homecoming” not only with regard to the architects, but also in the building concept. Herzog & de Meuron make reference to the archetypal form of the gabled house, which is found in residential structures around the globe. They have stretched this basic form and combined a series of “houses” in an intersecting stack. The resulting interior spaces have comfortable proportions and a domestic atmosphere, while the intersecting volumes create dramatic angles and perspectives. The architecture of the VitraHaus takes the visitor on a path of surprises, offering views of the Tüllinger Hill vineyards, across the Vitra Campus, and in the direction of Basel and Alsace.
Architects: Herzog & de Meuron
Photos: Iwan Baan, © Vitra