One of the highlights of my recent trip to Basel, Switzerland, was crossing the border to visit the Vitra campus in Weil-am-Rhein, Germany, about 25 minutes from Basel, and exploring the VitraHaus. The five-story structure looks like seven longhouses stacked one on top of each other, and it houses the entire Vitra collection. The best part: you're encouraged to take a seat and test out all the pieces.
The VitraHaus was designed by Basel-based firm Herzog & de Meuron and completed in 2010. The building is made of poured-in-place concrete, with the exterior covered in dark plaster and local fir.
Outside the building is a fenced-in Eames Elephant garden with this playful don't-feed-the-animals sign.
The sun-filled inner courtyard leads into the building via the doors at the left of the image and to the Lounge Chair Atelier through the doors to the right.
Vitra transferred part of the manufacturing process of Charles and Ray Eames's Lounge Chair and Ottoman (designed in 1956) to the Lounge Chair Atelier in the VitraHaus upon its completion. Open most days (but sadly not the day I was visiting), the Atelier invites visitors to come in and see how the pieces are put together and tested before sent to their future owners.
When you enter the VitraHaus, you receive a "Vitra Key." At the reception desk, you program the credit card-like key with your country of origin and your preferred language, then, as you walk around the VitraHaus, you can use it at kiosks to learn the names and designers of the pieces on display. You can even use it to wish-list products and start shopping (since every product on display is also for sale).
Much of the VitraHaus is set up in vignettes, like this living room scene that features the Slow Chair and Ottoman by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec designed in 2006, the Place Sofa by Jasper Morrison designed in 2008, Morrison's Cork Family models A, B, and C designed in 2004, his Plate Table coffee tabledesigned in 2004, and the Suita Pillow by Antonio Citterio designed in 2010 using Alexander Girard's pattern Love graphic.
The ends of the longhouse structures feature large glass windows and the very top one opens onto a balcony that overlooks the Vitra campus. The white dome was designed by Buckminster Fuller and built in Detroit, Michigan, in 1978 before going up for sale in 2000, at which time Vitra purchased it and shipped it to Weil-am-Rhein. Frank Gehry designed the factory in the background as well as entrance gate and building that houses the Vitra Design Museum.
One of the best things about the VitraHaus is that you're encouraged to get a real feel for all the furniture by taking a seat, as this sign recommends. On display here (left to right): a white Eames Plastic Armchair DAW by Charles and Ray Eames, a black Eames Plastic Side Chair DSX , a green .04 task chair by Maarten Van Severen, a green-and-black Basel Chair by Jasper Morrison, and the white Tom Vac by Ron Arad.
This living room setting is devoted to Isamu Noguchi, with a hit of Eames in the DAR Eames Plastic Armchairs and Eames House Bird atop the Noguchi Dining Table. In the background are the Freeform Sofa and Ottoman, Noguchi Table, and assorted Akari lamps by the designer.
This vignette shows the Communal Cell, a prototype by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec designed in 2010 as an office kitchen space.
The area dedicated to designer George Nelson boasts the longest Marshmallow Sofa I've ever seen. Next to it are two of Nelson's Coconut chairs, designed in 1955, and above are an array of clocks by his hand.
One section of the VitraHaus is dedicated entirely to the Eameses. Among the chairs on display: the LCW molded plywood lounge chairs designed in 1945/46 and the RAR Rocking Chair designed in 1950.
On another floor, this tranquil scene features Charles and Ray's lounge chair as well as the couple's Wire Base Side Tables.
Another area of the VitraHaus holds the Classic Chairs Collection. Among the featured seats are (left to right) the DCW Plywood Group by Charles and Ray Eames from 1945/46, the Vegetal by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec from 2008, and the Panton Chair by Verner Panton from 1999.
I loved the "Me + My…" room, which had a number of chairs, couches, and stools set up in front of mirrors so you could not only imagine but see yourself seated in one of Vitra's furniture pieces, such as the Monopod by Jasper Morrison.
There was a huge display featuring Antonio Citterio's Suita Sofa, which was released in 2010 and which we nominated as a finalist in our 2011 Modern World Awards. The Suita collection is almost endlessly customizable, with components to choose from that include: one-armed seats, two-armed seats, chaise shape, desk along the back, headrests, bolsters, and ottomans. I found the tall sofas with the headrests by far the most comfortable.
Serene settings like this one in the VitraHaus make you want to unpack and move in. This living and dining room features the Polder Sofa XL by Hella Jongerius, Kast console by Maarten Van Severen, Cité airchair by Jean Prouvé, Guéridon Bas coffee table by Prouvé, and Standard chairs around the EM Table by Prouvé.
Here, the Eames' ESU Bookcase is topped with an Eames House Bird and Akari lamp by Noguchi.
After a walk through all five floors of the VitraHaus, the built-in benches offer a nice spot to sit down, rest, and enjoy the architecture. For more about the entire campus, click through our photo slideshows Touring Vitra Campus, Part 1 and Touring Vitra Campus, Part 2.
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