Back in 2011 we took umbrage at the fence surrounding the Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein and so, taking up Ronald Regan’s mantle, issued a challenge to Vitra’s Chairman Emeritus Rolf Fehlbaum “Mr Fehlbaum! Tear down this wall” we demanded, “Or at least move it a little. Please”
And Rolf Fehlbaum listened. And has indeed moved it a little. Thank you!1
However, being a much more enlightened man than us, Rolf Fehlbaum thought further and not only took the opportunity thus created to invite Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza to landscape a promenade linking the Vitra House with Zaha Hadid’s Fire Station building, but also engaged artist Carsten Höller to develop an installation for the newly liberated space. The result is the Vitra Slide Tower, an object that does pretty much what it sounds like it should.
The decision to invite Álvaro Siza to landscape the promenade was, according to Rolf Fehlbaum, no random decision, rather was made on the basis of Siza’s previous landscaping projects including his swimming pool complex in Leça da Palmeira and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Santiago di Compostela. Winding some 500 metres around the western edge of the Vitra Campus the Álvaro-Siza-Promenade is lined with hornbeam hedges, the neat row occasionally opening to reveal green spaces, views across the Vitra Campus and seating areas ringed with granite benches. On its way it passes Renzo Piano’s Diogene and the new Vitra Slide Tower before passing through a narrow gap in a brick and granite wall from where a vista opens at the end of which stands the Fire Station.
Yes, it’s a path.
No, there was no need to hire a Pritzker Prize winning architect to landscape it.
Álvaro Siza has created a promenade that takes the chore out of walking a path. Much like a football referee has done his job well if no-one can remember what they did during a match, so to should such a promenade be undertaken without you having the feeling your walking somewhere. Álvaro Siza has achieved that with a path in which nature and architecture don’t blend effortlessly but one in which they are forced to compete with one another, to fight for their position. Something both components successfully achieve with more than a modicum of charm.
The structure that makes the least effort to blend in or otherwise adapt is without question Carsten Höller’s Vitra Slide Tower. Standing some 30 metres high the Slide Tower is not an especially attractive piece of work, extruding as it does the aesthetic charm of your average electricity pylon. It does however have something unquestionably 1950s trash American retro about it. We’re not saying a touch of the Las Vegas in Weil am Rhein, but at night when the rotating clock is illuminated there is something satisfyingly trashy about it. Like the Manic Street Preacher’s first album. We appreciate we’re probably supposed to say it reminds us of Russian Constructivist architecture à la Tatlins Tower, which it does, but….
The visual appearance of the piece however is of less importance, what is important is what it is. The process leading to the tower began when Rolf Fehlbaum considered how one could integrate more art into the Vitra Campus site. A sculpture garden didn’t appeal to him, then the contemporary art curator Theodora Vischer suggested he ask Carsten Höller. From the ideas Carsten presented the concept of a tower with slide caught Rolf Fehlbaum’s imagination the most: on the one hand an art instillation but an art installation with elements of architecture and play. And did Charles Eames not implore us to “Take your pleasure seriously”. The 38m long perspex covered slide allows you to do just that. While from the viewing platform one can enjoy a delightful, and much more sedate, panorama over Weil am Rhein, north Basel, the Tüllinger hills and of course the Vitra Campus.
All in all an excellent addition to the Vitra Campus and something which genuinely adds an extra dimension to any visit.
The Álvaro-Siza-Promenade can be freely enjoyed by all 24/7. The Vitra Slide Tower is open daily from 10am to 6pm, it is free, but be prepared to explain to younger children that use is restricted to those over 6 years old and/or 1.3 metres tall. Which is something we suspect will cause one or the other tantrum this summer. “But it’s a SLIDE mum!!”
In addition to the additions to the Vitra Campus the Vitra Design Museum Gallery is currently presenting the exhibition “Álvaro Siza – Visions of the Alhambra“. It is the same exhibition as previously shown at the Aedes Architecture Forum in Berlin. And so we refer interested readers to our previous post. And until Sunday September 14th the exhibition Konstantin Grcic – Panorama can be enjoyed at the Vitra Design Museum itself.
1. There may be a certain degree of dramatic licence in these opening sentences…..