Here you slide: the new tower by Carsten Höller for the Vitra Campus. Foto © Vitra
Fast tube to enjoyment
by Uta Abendroth | Jun 29, 2014

The entertainment factor of the latest edifice on the Vitra Campus certainly enriches the ensemble – adding a quite new dimension. Because not only will kids love Carsten Höller’s “Slide Tower”, but adults obviously enjoy the super-fast slide, too.
The realization of the helter-skelter is another milestone in the development of the Vitra Campus, now ongoing for 30 years. The “Balancing Tools” sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen (1984) was the first item erected outside the production plant’s perimeter fence. It was followed in 1989 by Frank Gehry’s Vitra Design Museum and in 1993 by Tadao Ando’s conference pavilion. Things climaxed with the “VitraHaus” designed by Herzog & de Meuron, which opened in 2010 and has since been home to the flagship store. But Vitra would not be Vitra if Rolf Fehlbaum was not constantly encouraging new ideas – and realizing them. “We cannot create further access to the production zone, where trucks drive around and where operating activities go on all the time,” the honorary Chairman explains. “But we do attract 300,000 visitors each year which is why we thought about other ways of opening things up.”

Plans envisage that visitors, who exclusively arrive from the north by car or bus, will in future also travel in by tram and be able to enter the campus in the south. To this end, at least parts of the south side need to be opened up. Even Zaha Hadid’s former fire station is to be made accessible to the public.
Fehlbaum approached Álvaro Siza three years ago; it was he who in 1994 designed a production hall made of Dutch brick for Vitra and had laid out the two car parks. The Portuguese architect, now aged 79, is renowned for his paths that link buildings with the surrounding countryside, and Fehlbaum asked him to come up with a path that linked the “VitraHaus” on the western edge of the grounds, to Hadid’s “Fire Station” – embedded in the surroundings, at least visually offering barrier-free access to the Vitra Campus, screening the car parks and with peaceful and entertaining breaks along the way.
The Álvaro Siza Promenade which has now opened covers some 500 meters. The asphalt path starts in a small piazza at the “VitraHaus”, and is flanked by hornbeam hedges. Álvaro Siza explains his concept as follows: “I chose this hedge because in the fall it sheds its leaves, offering different views and allowing visitors to experience the change of seasons.” Siza otherwise used materials likewise to be found in the Siza Hall: bricks fired in the Netherlands and Portuguese granite. The path is interrupted by an S-shaped recreation area, framed by hedges, and Carsten Höller’s helter-skelter, ending finally with a corner element consisting of brick-and-granite walls at the former fire station. The path elegantly and playfully leads visitors past the campus and at the same time combines architecture and nature. “This open space gives the buildings and objects and autonomy of their own, the areas are ideal for events, adults and children alike can make use of them,” Siza comments.

Precisely younger visitors will love Carsten Höller’s almost 30-meter-high “Slide Tower”: It consists of three angled steel struts that meet at the top, whereby at the apex there is a turning clock six meters in diameter. You reach the viewing platform, 17 meters up, by stairs – and then enjoy a stupendous view out over the campus and the surrounding countryside. The platform is also the launchpad for the 38-meter-ong tubular, curving slide. Carsten Höller believes slides are pragmatic sculptures, describing it thus: “Architecturally or practically speaking, slides are building elements that can transport people, are the equivalent of stairs, escalators or elevators. Slides safely and elegantly get people to their destination, are cheap to build, and energy efficient. The slide is also a device that offers an emotional experience that oscillates between joy and madness.” So it only remains for us to wish that Vitra continues to so joyfully develop the marvelously mad architecture of the campus.

Vitra Campus
Charles-Eames-Str. 2
79576 Weil am Rhein, Germany
Mon-Sun: 10am-6pm

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Curtain raised in Weil am Rhein: The Vitra Campus gleams resplendent with a new building designed by masters of the trade: the production hall by Japanese architectural duo SANAA.
(25 April 2013)

The second new building at the Vitra Campus: the promenade with “open rooms” by Portuguese architect Álvaro Siza. Photo © Vitra
17 meters tall: the „Slide Tower“ by Carsten Höller. Photo © Julien Lanoo für Vitra
Just with my hat: Artist Carsten Höller and Vitra-Chef Rolf Fehlbaum at the opening (from left to right). Photo © Uta Abendroth
Álvaro Siza used materials known from his earlier building, the production hall (1994), brick and granite. Foto © Vitra
Álvaro Siza explains: “This open space gives the buildings and objects and autonomy of their own. Photo © Vitra
Not only for kids. Foto © Attilio Maranzano für Vitra
The asphalt path starts is flanked by hornbeam hedges – because in the fall it sheds its leaves, offering the change of seasons. Photo © Vitra
Marvelous sliding experince on a length of 38 metres. Photo © Julien Lanoo für Vitra