Another missed opportunity from Herzog and de Meuron

Project Description

Located on the Vitra campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, the VitraHaus is yet another architectural one-liner from Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron.  One of the most recent additions to the furniture company’s rich architectural campus, the building contains showrooms for Vitra’s home collection as well as a café, conference room, and museum shop.  The basic idea of the building was to create a showroom that reflected the domestic nature of the collection rather than the “neutral environment of a convention hall or museum.”  What started as a conceptually strong idea was executed with a surprisingly childish simplicity and lack of rigor, a missed opportunity that can be found in the building’s form and treatment of context.
At first glance, the most prominent feature of the building is its iconic appearance of stacked house volumes, a result of the architects’ shallow interpretation of the building’s function. The architects justify their formal decisions by saying that the building’s exterior reflects the processes of “stacking, extruding, and pressing” often used in industrial production.  According to them, by extruding the archetypal form of a pitched roof house and stacking the resulting volumes, the architects are referencing the industrial nature of the Vitra campus.  But is this thin, primarily visual analogy justified relative to the resulting functioning, cost, and overall impact of the building?  The nature and scale of architectural construction is vastly different from industrial production, and the analogy is not productive in creating any added meaning for the building.