VitraHaus in Weil am Rhein, Germany

In January 2004, Vitra launched its Home Collection, which includes design classics as well as re-editions and products by contemporary designers. As a company whose previous activity was primarily focused on office furnishings and business clients, Vitra created the Home Collection with a new target group in mind: individual customers with an interest in design.

Since no interior space was available for the presentation of the Home Collection on the Vitra Campus in the Weil am Rheim, the company commissioned Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron in 2006 to design the VitraHaus. Thanks to its exposed location and striking appearance, it not only enhances the already outstanding ensemble of Vitra architecture, but assumes the important role of marking the Vitra Campus. Standing on the northern side of the grounds in front of the fenced perimeter of the production premises, the VitraHaus joins two other buildings in this area. The Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry (1989) and the Conference Pavilion bu tadao Ando (1993). The ample size of the plot made is possible to position the new structure a good distance way from the Vitra Design Museum and adjacent gatehouse, making room for an extension of the orchard meadow in front of the buildings, a typical feature of the local landscape.
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. In Weil am Rhein, it was especially appropriate to return to the idea of the ur-house, since the primary purpose of the five-storey building is to present furnishings and objects for the home. Due the proportions and dimensions of the interior spaces – the architectures use the term ‘domestic scale’ – the showrooms are reminiscent of familiar residentials settings. The individual ‘houses’, which have the general characteristics of a display space, are conceived as abstract element. With just 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 twelves house, 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 the 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 offer a spectacular view of the Tullinger 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 trough the VitraHaus, the directional orientation of the houses is hardly arbitrary, but is determined by the views of 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 relationaships 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 a maximum dimensions of 57 metres in length, 54 metres in width and 21.3 metres in height, the Vitrahaus rises above 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. Just as interior and exterior spaces interpenetrate, so do two types of forms: the orthogonal-polygonal, as perceived from the exterior, and the organiz, which produces a series of spatial surprises in the interior – a ‘secret world’ (in the words of Herzog & de Meuron) with a suggestive, almost labyrinthine character. On their path through the five storeys, visitors traverse the Vitra Home cosmos, ultimately returning to their starting point.
The VitraHaus has a daytime view and a night time view. In the evening, the perspective is reversed, During the day, one gazes out of the VitraHaus into the landscape, but when darkness falls, the illuminated interior of the building glows from whitin, while its physical structure seems to dissipate. The room open up; the glazed gable ends turn into display cases that shine across the Vitra Campus and into the surrounding countryside.

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VitraHaus – Welcome Home
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 theirs sense of design. A visit to the VitraHaus is like taking a trip trough 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 works 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.
In 1981, a major fire destroyed most of the production facilities on the Vitra premises in Weil am Rhein, which dated back to the 1950s. Since that event, a heterogeneous ensemble of contemporary architecture has been constructed on the site. Zaha Hadid realized her very first built structure here. The Vitra Design Museum is the first architectural world by Frank Gehry outside of North America. Tadao Ando constructed his first building outside of Japan. Nicholas Grimshaw, Alvaro Siza and SANAA have each designed a manufacturing facility, and buildings by Richard Buckminster Fuler, Jean Prouvé and Jasper Morrison are also found on the Vitra Campus.
The selections of architects has always followed the aim of bringing the world to Weil, in order to create a unique site distinguished by an assemblage of «foreign» architecture. Accordingly, architectural inspiration came to Weil from Los Angeles, London, Tokyo and Porto. Now, however, it seemed to be the right time for the Vitra Campus to integrate the world of architecture that is created in Basel by Herzog & de Meuron. 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 the 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 confortable proportions and a domestic atmosphere, while the intersecting volumes create a dramatic angles and perspectives. The architecture of the VitralHaus takes the visitor on a paths of surprises, offering views of the Tullinger Hill vineyards, across the Vitra Campus, and in the directions of Basel and Alsace.
The VitralHaus is open Monday to Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm, Thursday from 10 am to 8pm.Vitra Campus
Charles-Eames-Strasse 2
79576 Weil am Rhein

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