VitraHaus / Herzog & de Meuron

Photography by , © Vitra

Over the years the Vitra Campus has become an architecture museum, featuring works by the most renowned architects:  Frank Ghery, Zaha Hadid, Alvaro Siza, Tadao Ando, Jean Pruvé, Nicholas Grimshaw, Buckminster Fuller and SANAA (under construction).

The latest addition to the complex is the VitraHaus building, a series of stacked pitched-roof boxed, designed by Herzog & de Meuron for Vitra’s Home Collection:

In January 2004, Vitra launched its Home Collection, which includes design classics as well as re-editions and products by contemporary designers. As a company whose previous activity was primarily focused on office furnishings and business clients, Vitra created the Home Collection with a new target group in mind: individual customers with an interest in design.

Photography by Iwan Baan, © Vitra
Diagram © Herzog & de Meuron

Since no interior space was available for the presentation of the Home Collection on the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein, the company commissioned Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron in 2006 to design the VitraHaus. Thanks to its exposed location and striking appearance, it not only enhances the already outstanding ensemble of Vitra architecture, but assumes the important role of marking the Vitra Campus. Standing on the northern side of the grounds in front of the fenced perimeter of the production premises, the VitraHaus joins two other buildings in this area, the Vitra Design Museum by Frank Gehry (1989) and the Conference Pavilion by Tadao Ando (1993). The ample size of the plot made it possible to position the new structure a good distance away from the Vitra Design Museum and adjacent gatehouse, making room for an extension of the orchard meadow in front of the buildings, a typical feature of the local landscape.

Photography by Iwan Baan, © Vitra

The concept of the VitraHaus connects two themes that appear repeatedly in the oeuvre of Herzog & de Meuron: the theme of the archetypal house and the theme of stacked volumes. In Weil am Rhein, it was especially appropriate to return to the idea of the ur-house, since the primary purpose of the five-storey building is to present furnishings and objects for the home. 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. The individual ‘houses’, which have the general characteristics of a display space, are conceived as abstract elements. With just a few exceptions, only the gable ends are glazed, and the structural volumes seem to have been shaped with an extrusion press. Stacked into a total of five stories and breathtakingly cantilevered up to 49 feet 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.

Photography by Iwan Baan, © Vitra

Diagram © Herzog & de Meuron

The charcoal color of the exterior stucco skin unifies the structure, ‘earths’ it and connects it to the surrounding landscape. Like a small, vertically layered city, the VitraHaus functions as an entryway to the Campus. A wooden plank floor defines an open central area, around which five buildings are grouped: a conference area, an exhibition space for the chair collection of the Vitra Design Museum and a conglomerate comprising the Vitra Design Museum Shop, the lobby with a reception area and cloakroom, and a café with an outdoor terrace for summer use. A lift takes visitors to the fourth storey, where the circular tour begins. Upon exiting the lift, the glazed northern end of the room offers a spectacular view of the Tüllinger Hill. The opposite end – where the glass front is recessed to create an exterior terrace – opens to a panorama of Basel with the industrial facilities of the pharmaceutical sector. As one discovers on the path through the VitraHaus, the directional orientation of the houses is hardly arbitrary, but is determined by the views of the surrounding landscape.

Diagram © Herzog & de Meuron
Diagram © Herzog & de Meuron

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. 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. The interior walls are finished in white in order to give priority to the furniture displays.

Photography by Iwan Baan, © Vitra

With maximum dimensions of 187 feet in length, 177 feet in width and 69.8 feet in height, the VitraHaus rises above the other buildings on the Vitra Campus. The deliberate intention was not to create a horizontal building, the common type for production facilities, but rather a vertically oriented structure with a small footprint, which grants an overview in multiple senses: an overview of the surrounding landscape and the factory premises, but also an overview of the Home Collection. Just 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 – a ‘secret world’ (in the words of Herzog & de Meuron) with a suggestive, almost labyrinthine character. On their path through the five stories, visitors traverse the Vitra Home cosmos, ultimately returning to their starting point.

Model © Herzog & de Meuron

The VitraHaus has a daytime view and a night time view. In the evening, the perspective is reversed. During the day, one gazes out of the VitraHaus into the landscape, but when darkness falls, the illuminated interior of the building glows from within, while its physical structure seems to dissipate. The rooms open up; the glazed gable ends turn into display cases that shine across the Vitra Campus and into the surrounding countryside.

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* Location to be used only as a reference. It could indicate city/country but not exact address.
Cite: "VitraHaus / Herzog & de Meuron" 27 Jul 2011. ArchDaily. Accessed 17 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    I wasn’t shore about this design. I was thinking this is not architecture anymore, only design, shape. Hmm… Now, when it’s built I must change my mind. This looks very stylish and the detail make it just perfect:) p.s. Sou is very good, but this composition has it’s own continuum, so I don’t care who was first. Hope his idea will be built also.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I wish there were more interior photos or drawings available so we could have a greater understanding of the interaction of the elements inside.

    Exterior wise, it’s gorgeous.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Been to vitra when this building was still in progress and couldn’t imagine this to become a great building when finished, but the pictures proof me wrong and it turns out to be quite a fascinating piece of work!

  4. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    It’s a bit regressive. The stacking is interesting but this type of simulacrum has been exhausted in the 80′s.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +1

      It seems like a fitting approach for a showroom just for home furniture. It also plays strikingly with the standard vernacular shape for “house.”
      The cut away plans that show how each layer interacts with that above and below seem quite amazing. Even the way the roof from one section below becomes seating for an amphitheater above without feeling forced seems like quite a victory.
      I think it is a great architectural success that feels modern and timeless.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    hum. much effort went into defining the roof typology but its end result produces little in tectonic relationships to make any of the overlapping space truly meaningful or even active in any useful or interesting way. neo-glam domestic swiss chic turned euro trash dutch?

  6. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Tend to agree with threads. Looks too much like a one-liners of a diagram faithfully translated into a building for my liking.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Seems way to formal to me. The overlapping spaces don’t seem to give enough to be a viable argument. Has architecture completely lost its integrity?

  8. Thumb up Thumb down -1

    just nasty…everybody just following the mainstream, c´mon guys you shouldnt feel this exaggerated fascination about something just because its different or unique or just because its done by herzong and de meuron…it works more as a sculpture than its original purpose..

  9. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Sure, the building is realized within the framework of a simple diagram, with clear, simple details which are designed to emphasize the building’s simple diagrammatic shape. But is this negative?

    It is clear that the architectural characteristics which this BUILDING achieves are very rich and complex:
    overlapping, interconnecting spaces, rich sectional qualities clean, precise details, beautiful lighting intricate and interesting patterns of circulation…

    … what more could H&deM possibly do to convince you that a faithfully translated diagram can make successful architecture?

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0


      I’m not sure if that comment was directed at me or not? As far as I’m concerned, its an easy idea, distilled into a boring diagram, faithfully translated into architecture, it is a negative in my book – an extrude and stack job. So I personally don’t like it and remain unconvinced. But obviously its different strokes for different folks and I fully respect other people’s right to like it. I just hope they can respect mine not to as well.

      Obviously I fully take on board its for Vitra, so it need to shout to passersby and make some media headlines.

  10. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    … the notion of stacking simple iconic house extrusions is clearly not an attempt to create new, innovative shapes, so who cares if the idea is not completely virgin?

    the project’s virtues lie in the dynamic and complex arrangements of very banal shapes. the architecture emerges from composition, rather than form only!

    so why compare the shape-concept? it is only one minute fragment of this building’s total architectural essence.

  11. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    this is a complex arrangement? I suppose if you lay 10 pitch shaped tube/extrusions on top of one another you’re bound to get something. but this project is more of a commentary on swissness. There sense of humor is dead serious.

  12. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    No entiendo con que fin se intenta tugurizar un panorama con arquitectura de este tipo, la considero rebelde, cosmética y bastante costosa a simple vista… No aprecio el trabajo de estos arquitectos por que son infames y desmedidos con los elementos de la arquitectura,aunque hay que admitir que sus figuretes son bastante atractivos.

  13. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Il cuore ha sempre ragione!

    Giorni fa ero a pranzo ad un ristorante cinese, insieme a colleghi …… il tavolo era un grande cerchio attorno al quale ad ognuno di noi spettava la propria radiale.
    Beh! ben presto si arriva al momento degli ordini e tutti ovviamente ordinano portate cinesi ….. tutti tranne io! (ancora faccio una certa fatica a tradurre i menu dal mandarino classico); mi accontento di una pizza e da quel momento i binari iniziano a dividersi ……. i convogli incominciano silenziosamente a viaggiare separati; l’andatura è identica e parallela, la velocità la stessa, ma il combustibile che movimenta i convogli proviene da terre e storie differenti; da una parte la Regina Margherita e il suo continente anche troppo noto, dall’altra il Kublai Khan con le sue luminose conquiste.
    Qui il discorso potrebbe farsi complesso e non vorrei, quindi “occhio” e mastichiamo molto lentamente ….. ; dicevo che davanti a me il Sole Nascente stava sfamando 12 stranieri giunti lì come Marco Polo; tutti cordiali, tutti disponibili, tutti senza porre condizioni, nessuna! ….. eccetto quella di non vedersi somministrata naturalmente una razione di carne di gatto !; ebbene, io dal finestrino vedevo le cose di fronte e ciò mi ha consentito di cogliere un dettaglio determinante:
    Perchè usiamo i bastoncini quando siamo al cinese?
    Voglio dire, il movente era esclusivamente assaggiare sapori lontani, tutto quì! …… cosa c’entrano quegli scomodi bastoncini ?; perchè devono essere concepiti come una imprescindibile discriminante comportamentale alla consumazione di quei piatti ?; possibile che degli “Spaghetti di Riso” o degli “Involtini Primavera” assumano un altro sapore per il semplice fatto di essersi “corrotti” dal contatto di posate occidentali?
    In realtà le “responsabilità” di tale comportamento non vanno ricercate nè ad Oriente nè ad Occidente, la risposta IO credo sia dentro di NOI …… un NOI senza nazione ovviamente! perchè a Shanghai come a Xian quando 12 “visi gialli” si recano presso un improbabile Ristorante Pomodorino, mostreranno la stessa ostinazione nel voler adoperare delle scomodissime posate.
    Quindi cos’è che crea il sapore delle cose? la sua IDEA ! ……. ovviamente anche gli ingredienti, ma solo dopo!
    Siamo cosi interessati a inseguire l’idea di ciò che vorremmo immaginare da essere disposti a compiere anche gesti apparentemente controproducenti, scomodi, irrazionali …….. ma in realtà non lo sono, perchè come diceva una nota pubblicità (Erasmo docet) “il cuore ha sempre ragione” ( ) .
    Se solo riuscissimo a sintonizzarci più consapevolmente su questo piano della percezione, le cose che ci circondano ….. quelle che vediamo, desideriamo, consumiamo, regaliamo, progettiamo, amiamo (……. e anche ordiniamo al ristorante) oltre a sembrarci semplici e parziali ingredienti potrebbe diventare rappresentazione di noi stessi, radiografia completa di quello che siamo. Ancor più sconcertante sarebbe poi scoprire che i nostri Sogni o Idee di Sogni siano incredibilmente somiglianti gli uni agli altri (N.B. non ce n’era uno che non avesse quei ridicoli bastoncini tra le dita), ma questo non perchè i nostri orizzonti siano omologati, quanto piuttosto perchè ogni cosa nasce per essere condivisa.
    Io sono un architetto e ogni volta che vedo un Cliente mi chiedo: cosa lo ha portato a credere di aver bisogno di noi ? cosa possiamo dargli che già non abbia?
    Le conoscenze del Regolamento Edilizio, i diagrammi di Gant, i dwg o i jpg? ovviamente NO! ….. solo e soltanto la necessità di sentirsi aiutati ad essere protagonisti di un’IDEA ….. la propria! ; quest’idea essendo appunto condizione condivisibile, vorrebbe assurgere ad epica autorappresentazione di se stessi sugl’altri ……. l’Istinto al Sogno è l’unica trama che vorremmo per riassumere il film della nostra Vita; se ci pensiamo Mark Zuckerberg ha compreso intimamente questo ed ha saputo trasformare il vecchio Ufficio Anagrafe nella più incredibile ed esaltante cineteca della terra; grazie a Facebook tutte le nostre Vite diventano importanti storie disponibili sugli “scaffali dell’etere”, affinchè tutti gli altri se ne possano servire.
    Cheddire quindi? …….. e ora vengo a ciò di cui volevo parlarvi:
    sento grande stima per Herzog & de Meuron perchè già da molto tempo stanno aiutando i loro Clienti a costruire straordinari Sogni di autorappresentazione, sogni che per profondità, qualità e precisione diventano patrimonio condiviso, icone per tutti, cose che abbiamo sempre sentito di possedere dentro di noi ma che andavano tirate fuori da qualcuno. E’ un pò come la legge gravitazionale, pure quella non l’ha inventata Newton; quella, inconsciamente la conoscevamo anche noi, lui la seppe semplicemente tirare fuori dalle profondità del nostro inconscio ….. tutto quì! Quando le cose appaiono incredibilmente semplici vuol dire che sono giuste ! ….. ed è quello il bello.
    Vedo il nuovo Vitrahaus e sorrido :) ….. sorrido perchè da subito avverto come se avessi capito tutto; tutto mi sembra incredibilmente chiaro, sento che in una qualche misura quello appartiene anche a me, lo riconosco, ce l’avevo dentro senza saperlo ! era in un mio Sogno, in una mia Idea di Sogno …….. la stessa sensazione la prova il Sig. Fehlbaum così come i bambini che in questo momento stanno giocando a pallone sulla strada che costeggia il Vitra. Cercare di comprendere i motivi di questa conquista vorrebbe dire comprendere perchè ci ostiniamo a giocare facendo i cinesi coi bastoncini o perchè continuiamo ad immaginare le nostre case dei sogni uguali a quelle che disegnavamo sui fogli di scuola prima di regalarli alle nostre mamme.

    Il cuore ha sempre ragione !

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