The Swiss architecture firm’s second building for the German furniture design campus is a lesson in understatement.
Joining Herzog & de Meuron’s iconic Vitrahaus, the Schaudepot will add another 1,600 square metres of exhibition space to Vitra’s Weil am Rhein campus – a site just north of Basel, devoted to the preservation of modern furniture.
The Schaudepot (which translates as “Exhibition Depot”) resembles a windowless warehouse. Its gable roof echoes the lines of the Vitrahaus, but the simple form conceals the necessities of a public museum.
Despite its featureless facade, the monolithic Schaudepot is distinguished by an unusual cladding of red bricks that were hand-split on site and positioned with the jagged surface facing outward. A forecourt of matching red pavers – raised a few steps above the surrounding campus – creates a new public zone at the gallery’s entrance and harmonizes with Álvaro Siza’s nearby factories, also clad in brick.
Rather than harmonizing, Schaudepot contrasts with Zaha Hadid’s angular concrete Fire Station, directly adjacent. Filling in the campus beyond that are more buildings and art installations by SANAA, Tadao Ando, Nicholas Grimshaw, Renzo Piano, Buckminster Fuller, Claes Oldenburg and Jean Prouvé.
Inside, the structure is dominated by its main hall, a white-box exhibition space lit by the evenly cast glow of a grid of fluorescent lights. This is where more than 400 key objects from the Vitra Design Museum’s permanent collection will be displayed for the first time, organized chronologically from 1800 to the present day. The Schaudepot will also house temporary exhibitions devoted to specific themes, in addition to its entrance area and cloakroom, a cafe, a gift shop and bathrooms.
The Schaudepot sits above the museum’s furniture repository which, with roughly 7,000 pieces, is one of the world’s largest collections of modern design. Also on the same level as the vault is the campus’s restoration workshop and the museum’s offices, library and archives, which includes items from the estates of Charles and Ray Eames, Verner Panton and Alexander Girard. Interior windows in the main hall offer visitors a glimpse at these subterranean sections of the museum.
Frank Gehry’s main museum space, completed in 1989 (the year the museum was founded), will continue to stage temporary exhibitions. Showcasing the permanent collection is now the role of the Schaudepot, with the ultimate goal of making the museum’s growing collection more accessible to the public.