Herzog and De Meuron is a Swiss architecture firm founded by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, together with Senior Partners Christine Binswanger, Ascan Mergenthaler, Stefan Marbach, Esther Zumsteg, and Jason Frantzen. An international team of over 500 collaborators, including the two Founders, five senior partners, ten partners, and 50 associates, works on projects across Europe, the Americas, and Asia. Their main office is in Basel, supported by their studios in Germany in Berlin and Munich; in Hong Kong; in the UK in London; and in the USA in New York and San Francisco; and site offices in Copenhagen and Paris.
One of their renowned projects is the Vitra Haus campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany. Given a large area of land where other buildings stand timeless, this project too had to speak for itself. The idea of an entirely new building was birthed because the company did not have enough space to display house decor, resulting in consulting one of the most remarkable architectural firms – Herzog and de Meuron. It was supposed to be created between two preeminent structures: The Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry and Congress Hall by Tadao Ando. The architects explored the opportunity to create a building that served the purpose and pushed the boundaries of imagination.
The structure is an exceptional amalgamation of form and functionality. The designers did not want it to be just another linear building occupying a larger footprint. Thus the overall construction is made taller, checking both the points in the list- the building is around 15m taller with a good view and lesser footprint. The outer form consists of a couple of houses stacked abruptly to form one structure. The pitched roof is given to make it feel no less than a typical home rather than a space for a customer. Charcoal color on the outer walls is given to make it seem connected to earth as one. The transparency in the facade by having huge glass windows makes a connection with people outside, welcoming them inside. It communicates by being unique yet blending in with the surrounding. The crooked walls on the entrance grab the person’s attention and make them want to go inside and look for more. Some walls are designed for people to utilize as benches and rest for a while. This was also intended to attract visitors and simply take a look. The total volume consists of 5 floors and 12 individual spaces.
When a person enters, they are met by a large central space, holding the other volumes together. Different spaces at the basement level under the proposed functions include a conference area, an exhibition space for the chair collection of the Vitra design museum (the vitrine), a conglomerate that contains the Vitra design museum shop, a lobby with a reception area, cloakroom and café with an outdoor terrace. The five large volumes vertically stacked generate curiosity in the visitors. An elevator is situated which directly takes one to the fourth floor, allowing the customer to get a glance of almost all floors. The volumes create beautifully resolved corners and intersections which turn out to be usable corners. The huge glass windows are placed in a way that one can interact with the outside and feel connected, rather than feeling completely cut off and engulfed by the inside spaces. The scale of individual boxes is maintained in a way that a person does not feel lost, or not relatable. Items to display are arranged in a way that the customer feels at home, instead of a mere portrayal of things clustered together for sale. One feels at ease and is understood by the interiors. The white color of the walls allows other items of color to stand out and not get misjudged. Complete setups of furniture and decor are given space to breathe, unlike a factory-type setup where everything is found in grids. This allows the customer to spend more time and feel more relaxed, instead of feeling like accomplishing a forceful task. Every floor has something different to offer which keeps the visit of customers engaging and alive. One has so much to see and absorb, it acts as a constant journey, rather than a destination. Almost the entire campus is visible from the inside, which makes one feel liberated. The subtle transitions created between volumes provide freedom to take a step back and think out of the box.
The project stands as an inspiration to go beyond the basic construct of straight lines and stacks. It not only is one of its kind but also graces the entire Vitra campus with its presence. Breaking all the stereotypes, this project motivates and drives other designers to become better and bolder.