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  COME VEDERE L'ARCHITETTURA CONTEMPORANEA HOW TO SEE CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE
COME VEDERE L'ARCHITETTURA CONTEMPORANEA HOW TO SEE CONTEMPORARY ARCHITECTURE
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BUILDING
 
 
Vitra International Administrative Building and Shop
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DESIGNER
 
 
Frank O. Gehry

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DESCRIPTION
 
The new building by Frank O. Gehry is located at the Southeast edge of Birsfelden, a suburb of Basel, Switzerland. Close to an autobahn ramp, it stands amid apartments and industrial buildings and is immediately next to the Hard Forest as well as to Vitra's first building, a factory built in 1957 by the Basel architects Beck and Bauer. This context has determined Gehry's building. How can an office building be inserted into this environment without infringing upon the neighbourhood? This was the question Frank O. Gehry posed. Unlike other projects suggested for this site, Gehry's did not set the main building parallel to the street. Instead, he suggested locating it at a 90° angle to the street to give it a less overwhelming appearance. Next to it is the "villa", recessed from the street and only visible from close at hand. Thus the scale of the site is retained. "Villa" and main building are connected by an atrium and united under an imposing roof. Monumental spaces are created here and in the atrium. Nonetheless, in its relationship to the neighbourhood, the building seems anything but monumental.

The division into office tract and "villa" with the two parts joined by bridges underscores the fundamental idea of the Vitra Center. Workplaces are located in the office tract while the "villa", with its reception area, cafeteria, conference spaces and an audio-visual room, provides the social and communicative focus.

The office tract is a building with two different facades. Opening south toward the "villa" is a wooden facade with many windows. Together with the roof's wooden soffit, this creates a warm inviting facade that contrasts with the metal surfaces of the villa.

The starker plaster north facade with its well-proportioned rows of windows relates to the buildings in the neighborhood. Each floor is stepped back in gradations of 6,5 centimeters. Inside the office building materials are wood, a sisal-like carpet and sculptural lighting designed by the architect to create indirect light and an office atmosphere that deviates from the cool impersonality of a typical office. The office tract's floor plan has been chosen to allow for the placement of various office typologies: private offices, small offices, group offices and combination offices.

The "villa" is the place where Vitra employees and guests meet. With its sculptural forms, its colors, its unusual conference spaces, and its lights specifically designed for certain spaces, it forms the heart of the complex. Here employees enter the building and reach their workplaces by way of the atrium or the bridges joining the "villa" and the office tract. During meals and breaks they can relax in the "villa". Conferences and presentations are held here resulting in formal and informal contacts. The "villa" with its corners, edges and tensions, with its "awkward beauty", has no pretence to simple beauty. Instead, it is meant to challenge both employees and visitors, "to engage them, to get them angry and glad and thinking" (Frank O. Gehry). The "villa" possesses the dimensions and the equipment to allow for the later addition of a second office tract on the south side.

In Weil am Rhein Frank O. Gehry's factory building forms the quiet backdrop to the animated surfaces of his Vitra Design Museum. Here in Birsfelden a similar situation occurs. The ensemble's power springs from tension and relaxation, from the relationship between the poles of a discreet office tract and an expressive "villa".

The space between the "villa" and the office tract is enclosed by the atrium with its open fireplace for winter; a room for short visits and special occasions. What joins these differing spaces is the monumental roof spreading like a wing over the "villa", the atrium and the office building. Under the roof, boatlike walk-in sculptures currently being developed by Frank O. Gehry will offer a place in their shadows.

To Vitra, this center means that activities that formerly took place in several different locations can now be united. A lively exchange between people and departments is encouraged by the building's organization. Here the Vitra Group's executive directorship, the international organization, the Swiss sales departments with showroom, and the group finance division are gathered under one roof. The product development department is located close-at-hand in a former Vitra factory.

Under the tenet of architecture as an influence on thougt, feeling and behavior, we are convinced that an innovative, communicative and emotional building promotes analogues behavior and provokes positive change within the firm. We also believe that with this building and its interiors we can point to new paths in the discussion of office design.

Edit by Vitra
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MATERIALS
 
reinforced concrete, aluminium, wood

Exterior walls: Masonry and concrete with outer insulation, plastered and painted inside and out (Office Building)
Concrete; part titanium zinc tin/part plaster (Villa)
Windows: Aluminium and wood with insulation glass
Interior doors: Red Douglas fir, partially noise insulated
Heating: Radiators and sub-floor convectors (Office Build). Floor heat and radiators (Villa)
Floors: carpeting (Office Building), stained limewood parquet (Villa)

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LOCATION
 
Continent
Europe
Nation
Switzerland [Schweiz/Suisse]
Canton
Basel-Country [Basel-Land]
District
Arlesheim
Town
Birsfelden
Address
Klünenfeldstrasse 22 - 4127 Birsfelden
 
 
Telephone
+41.(0)61.3770000
Fax
+41.(0)61.3771510
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TYPOLOGY
 
ARCHITECTURE
Buildings for offices and professional practises
Offices
Industrial buildings and plants
Firms, factories, workshops
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CHRONOLOGY
 
Project
1990 - 1991    
Realisation
1992 - 1994
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BIBILIOGRAPHIC REFERENCES
 
 
Francesco Dal Co, Kurt W. Forster, Hadley Soutter Arnold, Frank O. Gehry. Tutte le opere, Electa, Milano 1998, pp. 408-415
Mercedes Daguerre, Birkhäuser Architectural Guide Switzerland 20th Century, Birkhäuser, Basel 1997, p. 146-147
"Vitra. Ando, Gehry, Hadid, Siza", Lotus international 85, maggio/may 1995 [Dopo il Guggenheim/After the Guggenheim], "Vitra" pp. 74-99
Matthias Ackermann, "Figure di artisti alle porte della fabbrica/Figures of Artists at the Gates of the Factory", Lotus international 85, maggio/may 1995 [Dopo il Guggenheim/After the Guggenheim], "Vitra" pp. 74-99
"Centro Vitra/Vitra Center, Birsfelden", Lotus international 85, maggio/may 1995 [Dopo il Guggenheim/After the Guggenheim], "Vitra" pp. 96-99 (74-99)
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CLIENT
 
 
Vitrashop AG, Birsfelden
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DIMENSIONAL
DATA
 
Surface
building sq.m. 2,127
gross floor sq.m. 6,827
netto sq.m. 6,044
Volume
m³ 26,359
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STRUCTURES
 
 
Schmidt & Partner, Basel
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STAFF
 
Project
Frank O. Gehry & Associates
Design
Frank O. Gehry
Project management
Robert G. Hale
Project leader
Vincent Snyder
Associate architect
Prof. Gunter Pfeifer (GPF Pfeifer & Associates) in cooperation with Roland Mayer
Design team
James M. Glymph, Randall Stout, Liza Hansen, Peter Locke, Eva Sobesky, David Stein, Laurence Tighe, Dane Twichell, Brian Yoo
 
 
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