There are certain tropes that would be easy to fall prey to when designing for a crystal company. Luminescent finishes, a faceted facade, a lot of bling. Maybe a few of those diamond-covered Damien Hirst skulls. The potential for banality is great. But you don’t turn to the architects at Snøhetta, as the Tyrolean crystal maker Swarovski recently did, if clichés are what you’re after. “We were able to resist those very obvious temptations,” says Patrick Lüth, managing director of Snøhetta’s studio in Innsbruck.
The Swarovski Manufaktur – envisioned as an old-style design office, production facility and client centre all in one – is the latest addition to the company’s campus in Wattens, Austria. Slotted between two existing volumes with only six metres of cushion, the site that the architects faced was a tight one, eliminating the possibility of any grand architectural gestures with regard to the new building’s exterior. This was just as well, as functionality and flexibility were among the primary goals. In addition to enabling rapid prototyping, the building had to serve as a meeting place for Swarovski’s many collaborators in the worlds of fashion, design and art, the technicians who make their jewel-encrusted fantasies real and the clients who ultimately buy them.
Built on a trapezoidal footprint over two levels plus a basement, the layout that Snøhetta developed centres around an amphitheatre-like blond-birch staircase that connects a glass-enclosed gallery and showrooms to the small-scale factory and common spaces below. “The idea of a manufaktur is old, but this is a new interpretation,” Lüth says of the building, which brings once disparate elements of the production and design processes together under one roof for the first time. “For example, a carpenter would invite the client into his workshop and they would discuss, with a piece of wood in hand, the cabinet he is making. The idea is to involve the client in the creation of the product.”
Convenient though it may be, the multi-faceted nature of the building also presented a dilemma – namely, how to accommodate heavy-duty production on the premises while also ensuring that they are comfortable to work in and welcoming to guests. “In the same space you’re supposed to have a nice conversation about the design of a dress or the creation of a piece of jewellery,” says Lüth, “the CNC machines are running.” To maintain an agreeable sound level, perforated metal acoustic panels were affixed to the ceiling and along the building’s southern wall, softening the whirring machines’ white noise. “It’s like being in a city: You’re aware of your context but it’s not so loud that it disturbs you.”
Another major concern was illumination: In order to examine the crystals at their best and most brilliant, natural yet diffused daylight is key. “It was important not to get any direct sunlight into the space,” Lüth explains. “But at the same time, we required a higher level of daylight penetration, so that on an overcast day you would not require much artificial lighting.” Snøhetta’s solution was to frame the glazed ceiling with 135 angled cassettes that prevent full sunlight from reaching the factory floor; the ceiling was further coated with solar-control and sun-protection films.
Keeping the factory in tidy shape for visitors without sacrificing functionality or versatility also factored heavily. Production media such as pressurized air and various fluids are stored away beneath removable birch floorboards, which can be recycled and replaced. “If a forklift scratches the floor, you just flip over that piece,” explains Lüth. “And if it’s scratched on the other side, you recycle it and put in a new one.”
A soothing blend of white walls, soft textiles, oak and brass details and stained glass was adopted as an intentional foil to the often flamboyant designs produced within the facility. “The choice of colours was quite pragmatic in the sense that we knew that there would be a lot of different things going on,” says Lüth. “Together it creates a very gentle and generous atmosphere” – and one entirely devoid of clichés. snohetta.com
A soft design palette and a rigorous yet flexible layout distinguish Snøhetta’s new production centre for a company renowned for bling