After a devastating fire in 1981 that crippled the Vitra design campus in Weil am Rhein, Germany, Vitra began an extensive mission to rebuild the campus as well as redesign the masterplan, which was designed by Nicholas Grimshaw. Almost a decade after the devastating fire in 1981, the company sought an architect to build a fire station for the Vitra campus to thwart any future reoccurrences and commissioned Zaha Hadid. Completed in 1993, the Vitra fire station would be Hadid’s first realized project of her career, which would eventually launch her name and style to an international audience.
The Vitra fire station is Hadid’s showcased work that delves into the deconstructivist theoretical language that she developed through her paintings as a conceptual mediator of finding spatial relationships and form. The Vitra fire station is a synthesis of philosophy and architecture that bridges the Vitra design campus to its surrounding context.
More on the Vitra Fire Station after the break.
As part of the initial design process, Hadid and her associate Patrik Schumacher began relating the existing buildings on the campus to the surrounding agricultural context. The long road where the fire station would be located was envisioned as a linear landscape as if it were an artificial extension of the adjacent fields and vineyards. The fire station was understood to be the linkage that would define the edge between the surrounding landscape and the artificiality of the campus. By implementing a narrow profile to the building, it can be perceived as an extension, or extrusion, of the landscape that conceptually runs through the building.
The fire station is a composition of concrete planes that bend, tilt, and break according to the conceptual dynamic forces that are connecting landscape and architecture. The building is thought to be frozen in motion, heightening the dynamism of the forces used to create the formal aesthetic that is suspended in a state of tension creating a sense of instability. Concrete “shards” and planes slide past one another creating a narrow, horizontal profile. The sense of instability is intensified as horizontal planes slip over one another, while another projects out over the garage bay. Always in a state of constant uneasiness, the concrete planes embody a heavy, opaque quality that restricts views into the building except for when the walls begin to split from the building.
The interior of the fire station is just as complex formally and spatially as the exterior of the building. The series of layered walls are bent, tilted, and broken to accommodate for the functionality of the program that is sandwiched in between the walls. The second floor is slightly off balance with the ground floor, which creates a sense of spatial instability within. As the planes slide past one another and begin to manipulate according to program, visitors are subject to optical illusions that the angles and glimpses of color begin to create within.
Inside and out the Vitra fire station is a series of complex spatial arrangements that evoke a sense of illusive instability while still retaining some semblance of stability and structure. Yet all the while exhibiting simple, clean lines that converge together to create a compositional complexity throughout the station.
Today, the fire house has been converted into a museum that showcases Vitra’s chair designs after the fire district lines had been redrawn.