Examining The Vitrahaus And Its Construction Architecture Essay


The home of Vitra Home Collection, VitraHaus (2006-2010), is located on Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany.1 It was designed by Basel-based architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron and opened in 2010.2 The purpose of the VitraHaus was to provide a space to present Vitra Home Collection furniture arrangements in different style genres and also provide inspirational ideas for visitors home and their own taste in design.3 In Charles & Ray Eames Showroom, this was overcome by use of precedents which includes minimalism and the architects previous projects in Munich, Basel, and Paris.4

A) Historical Introduction:

The VitraHaus(fig.1) was initiated as the home of the Vitra Home Collection that launched in January 2004.5 The company Vitra is a manufacturer and retailer of many leading furniture designers works.6 Vitra is also known for the Vitra Campus(fig.2) that make up its premises in Wil am Rhein.7 It is where company s widely acclaimed architecture of museum, atelier, showrooms, warehouse and manufacturing buildings are situated which make up its premises.8 These buildings are known for its internationally recognized architects such as like Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, Nicholas Grimshaw, Alvaro Siza and Antonio Citterio as well as structures by Jean Prouv? and Richard Buckminster Fuller.9 Since its foundation in 1950, the company focused mainly on office furnishings and has targeted business clients until they launched its Home Collection in January 2004 with a new target group in mind: individual customers with an interest in design.10 It features collection of unique home products including design classics, re-editions, as well as works by contemporary designers.11 The Vitra Home Collection was displayed in a former factory building on the main Vitra production site until the company decided to have a space solely serve for the Home Collection.12 To construct an additional space on the Vitra Campus, the company commissioned two Basel based architects Herzog and de Meuron in 2006 to design the home of Vitra Home Collection the VitraHause.13 The design development took place from 2006 to 2007 and the construction continued from 2007 to 2009 where the VitraHaus opened in Feburary 22nd 2010.14 The construction of VitraHaus was also a starting of a new chapter in the history of Vitra Campus since it was the newest addition in sixteen years since the last building the Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry in1994.15

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B) Spatial Organization and Planning:

The VitraHaus is a five storey structure with twelve houses within the building.16 (fig.3) The Charles and Ray Eames showroom (fig.4) is located in the third floor of VitraHaus with dimension of approximately 90sq.meter.17 The visitors discovery on the path through the VitraHaus starts from fourth floor of the building towards the lower floors.18 As one starts their tour in fourth floor loft, they are introduced to a spectacular view of the Tullinger Hill and the history of Vitra and the VitraHaus.19 After one has been introduced to a brief knowledge of the Vitra and its history of furniture, The Vitra Classic awaits in the third floor (fig.5) where Charles and Ray Eames showroom is located.20

The Vitra Classic floor can be reached by three different paths throughout the building.21 First is to take the main stair which connects all the floors in the building.22 This main stair will introduce you directly to Charles and Ray Eames showroom which is located in the North East side of the floor.23 The second method is to take a lift which also connects all the floors in the building.24 However, the lift will lead you to the other collection of Vitra Classics which is located in the South West side of the floor.25 But one can easily walk to the other side of the floor.26 The third is a spiral stair which is accessible from the second floor.27 On the arrival of this spiral stair, one can choose to walk straight forward to the South West part of the floor or turn around to visit the Charles and Ray Eames collection.28

As you enter the showroom (fig.6), the front fa?ade with glazed gable ends opens up the room to the view of landscape and the Vitra Campus.29 The daylight from the window also makes the room feel more spacious. On the East of the room is the display wall with wall mounted shelving and colour coded signage to categorize Charles and Ray Eames designs.30 To the West side of the space, chairs are displayed on the floor along the wall with different flooring that separates between the display area and circulation floor.31 The West side of the space also has the spiral stairs which opened up upper part of the wall which gives view of second floor which presents the Living, Eating, and Working at Home collections.32

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C) Materials and Construction Method(s):

The VitraHaus is a five storey structure of stacked volumes of the archetypal house which comprised of twelve houses.33 Five houses are set at the ground floor with seven more houses are stacked up, intersected and in support of one another.34 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.35 The VitraHaus rises above the other buildings on the Vitra Campus with maximum dimensions of 57 metres in length, 54 metres in width and 21.3 metres in height.36(fig.7) The deliberate intention was to grant an overview of the surrounding landscape, the campus as well as an overview of the Home Collection by constructing a vertically oriented structure with a small footprint.37

The charcoal coloured stucco on the exterior of the building unifies the structure, and connects it to the surrounding landscape.38 (fig.8) A wooden plank floors made from the local larch wood defines an open central area, where five ground floor buildings are grouped.39 (fig.9) It performs as a conference area, Vitra Design Museum Shop, business lounge and a Vitrine exhibition space, the lobby with a reception area and a caf? with an outdoor terrace for summer use.40 As interior and exterior spaces interpenetrate, so do two types of forms: the orthogonal-polygonal, as perceived from the exterior, and the organic, which produces a series of spatial surprises in the interior. 41(fig.10) It is a 'secret world' that is intended by Herzog & de Meuron with a suggestive, almost labyrinthine character. 42 On the path through the five storeys, 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.43 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.44

The individual 'houses', which have the general characteristics of a display space, are conceived as abstract elements.45 With just a few exceptions, only the gable ends are glazed, and the structural volumes seem to have been shaped with an extrusion press.46

An important feature of the VitraHaus is the glassed end gables(fig.11); a feature which gives the house two personalities.47 By day the surrounding countryside appears to be drawn into the interior and to become almost a part of the decoration; in contrast, however, when darkness falls, the illuminated interior of the building glows from within, while its physical structure seems to dissipate.48 The rooms open up; the glazed gable ends turn into display cases that shine across the Vitra Campus and into the surrounding countryside.49

D) Furnishings and Ornamentation:

The philosophy of Vitra Home Collection is to provide inspirational ideas for individuals home and their own taste in design rather than an interior design system or a homogeneous product line.50 Vitra Home Collection wishes to inspire customers to furnish their home as a process of collage of products and objects according to one s individual preferences and circumstances.51 To allow one to be inspired, and encourage to explore and heighten their sense of design, the interior of the overall space is very simple and furnishings are used as minimal as possible.52 The interior walls are finished in white which gives priority to the furniture displays and allow the characteristics of furniture presents its fullest .53 Since the space is used to showcase the retail furniture, series of wall shelving and signage are used to display.54 The white shelves are mounted in different levels with colourful signage to categorize the types of Charles and Ray Eames chairs into plastic, wire, aluminum, and ply wood groups.55 The rugs or different variety of floor furnishings are used to give the boundary to the additional furniture displayed on the floor.56 The spot lightings are mounted in the ceiling as ambient light as well as to emphasize the products.57 Since there are minimal use of ornamentations, the abstract structural volumes interacting through the space and the glazed gable ends adds rhythm to the space.58 The high ceiling, white finishes, light wood floors, and large windows give spacious feeling to the space.59

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Each house has a touch screen catalogue(fig.12) where each visitor can insert their VitraHause keycard and browse through Vitra s catalogue, purchase a product on a spot or learn about particular design or designer.60 The Vitra Classic Collection also features the Photo me La Chaise Armchair which is set of a La Caise Armchair by Charles and Ray Eames with a camera that allows visitors to have memorable photo time upon their visit to the VitraHaus.61 The photo can be stored in a personal VitraHause keycard and can be emailed later.62

E) Functions and Signification:

Since the company Vitra is a manufacturer and retailer company that acquired licenses for the designs of Charles and Ray Eames in 1951, it is not a surprise to see that one of the showrooms in VitraHaus was dedicated to the designs of Eames.63 The Charles and Ray Eames showroom functions as a space that showcases the works of Charles and Ray Eames in different range of groups.64 The groups are categorized by the materials used in the making of the chairs which includes but not limited to; plastic, wire, aluminum, and ply wood.65

As mentioned earlier, the deliberate intention of the building was to grant an overview of the surrounding landscape, the campus as well as an overview of the Home Collection by constructing a vertically oriented structure with a small footprint.66 This has been illustrated in the Charles and Ray Eames showroom with large window that has an overview of the campus and the opening for the spiral stair case allows an overview of the Home Collection on lower floors.67 The philosophy of the Vitra Home Collection also has been demonstrated successfully in the space.68 The Vitra Home Collection s intention was to provide inspirational ideas for individuals own taste in design so one can furnish their home as a process of collage of products and objects according to one s individual preferences and circumstances.69 This philosophy is successfully delivered through minimal interior design of the space.70 It allowed the unique characteristics of each chairs to be presented in its fullest with the contrast of the white wall.71 This contrast and display almost creates an imagery of pallets of colourfull paints on a white canvas which inspires visitors to explore and imagine their own design of space.72 The special photograph set and digital catalogue also adds excitement and convenience to the visit.73

The space that is solely dedicated in respect of the design classic, with the company s philosophy of provide a space that can inspire one to build and develop their own design world.74 This suggests that the space not only functions as a showroom, but it also functions as a space for an education, preservation of stories, personal knowledge and to be one s muse.75

F) Designer s Sources/Inspirations/Influences/Precedents:

The concept of the VitraHaus contains two direct quotations of the themes that appear repeatedly in the oeuvre of Herzog & de Meuron: the theme of the archetypal house and the theme of stacked volumes.76 Herzog & de Meuron has aimed not for virtuosity but innovation, looking always to the broader culture and art for inspiration.77 Referring to Andy Warhol, Jacques Herzog has said, He used common Pop images to say something new. That is exactly what we are interested in: to use well known forms and materials in a new way so that they become alive again. 78 Their influences of the archetypal house and theme of stacked volumes can be seen in many of their work from precedents to future projects that are in progress.79 The Goetz Collection, in Munich 1989-1992 (fig.13), St. Jakob Turm in Basel 2005-2008 (fig.14), and Rue des Suisses in Paris 1996-2000 (fig.15) are one of the precedents that has been designed by Herzog and de Meuron.80

Another form of their precedents study can be found at the Herzog and de Meuron Exhibition at the Walker Art Centre in November 2000 to February 2001.81 The exhibition included from material studies to technical drawings and from initial models to full-scale prototypes(fig.16).82 Here, many prototypes of stack up of geometrical shapes can be found.83

In VitraHaus, it was especially appropriate since the primary purpose of the five-storey building is to present furnishings and objects for the home.84 Due to the proportions and dimensions of the interior spaces ? the architects use the term 'domestic scale' ? the showrooms are reminiscent of familiar residential settings.85 Architect Jacques Herzog, naturally, sees the situation somewhat differently.86 For Herzog, the project was a chance to get away from development driven architecture and a rare opportunity to complete an author driven project.87 Through the stacking and interlacing you not only create a multitude of new forms and architectural spaces but achieve a wonderful paradox: a simple, familiar house design which appears complex on account of the numerous intersections.88 This perceived complexity is further enhanced by the combination of the external orthogonal-polygonal form and the more organic internal form which results, principally, from the spiral staircases and occasional open spaces and small side windows.89 Principally the black exterior allows the effect of floating houses by allowing the structure to merge with the darkness.90 In addition the anthracite of the VitraHaus contrasts with the brilliant white of Frank Gehry's neighbouring Vitra Design Museum.91