The Laufen booth designed by Andreas Fuhrimann and Gabrielle Hächler at the ISH 2019

"We’re particularly interested in things that no one expects of us."

Fuhrimann Hächler are associated with avant-garde architecture that sparks controversies. Nevertheless, sanitary ceramics specialist Laufen asked them to design its Milan fair booth in 2018. Gabrielle Hächler reveals the secret to what soon became a highly successful collaboration.
by Fabian Peters | 5/8/2020

Fabian Peters: Your office is famed for its striking residential buildings; often made of concrete and most recently also of brick, they often toy with the element of the rough and ready. What do you find so fascinating about them?

Gabrielle Hächler: Our culture simply now has an exaggerated fixation on perfection. In fact, one could almost say to the point of inhuman barbarity. As of a certain point perfection loses its beauty. In our architecture we week to render visible precisely the processes by which something came about – and to factor in natural aging processes.

It therefore seems a little surprising that since 2018 you’ve been highly successful in designing the trade-fair booths and presentations for Laufen, the sanitary ceramic makers. What did you find so interesting about the task?

Gabrielle Hächler: We have always been prepared to cross over into other fields. We’re particularly interested in things that no one expects of us. Trade-fair booths offer a great opportunity to try things out that would otherwise not be possible. In many respects, such temporary structures are comparable to the architecture of houses, in particular as regards functionality. The big difference of course being that they don’t need to be weatherproof (laughs).

How did you collaboration with Laufen come about?

Gabrielle Hächler: Beda Achermann, a very idiosyncratic and brilliant book designer and ad artist, had been working for quite some time with Laufen and he threw our hat in the ring because he likes our architecture and had on various occasions used houses we had designed in London as the location for photoshoots. And thus it was that at some point we received a mail asking if we would be interested in the job. So we drove to Laufen, were taken on a tour of the ceramic production, and were completely fascinated – both by the sheer craftsmanship and the know-how that was clearly to be seen.

Laufen is almost unparalleled in the sector when it comes to its coherent emphasis on design and on collaborating with leading international designers. Did that play a role in your decision?

Gabrielle Hächler: What was first and foremost important to us was that Laufen wanted more than you’re your average trade-fair architecture. That was and still is a real stroke of good fortune for us. And conversely for Laufen too, I hope (laughs). I really must say that the partnership has gone superbly. We are delighted that Laufen has such a complex understanding of how to position itself as a brand. And we continued to be taken by the fact that they dared partner with us.

The first trade-fair booth you designed for Laufen, for the 2018 Salone del Mobile in Milan, made a big splash and was a real success. What considerations went into the design?

Gabrielle Hächler: The architecture was laid out somewhat like a Muslim house: Closed on the outside with only three entrances and in the center a courtyard with a fountain. We find such cultural transfers very interesting and they are also the product of our travels in the Orient. On the other hand, it was completely clear to us that a trade-fair stand also simply has to exhibit a little glamour.

Glamour is usually hardly an attribute that will be connected with your architecture.

Gabrielle Hächler: Because it was never foregrounded! But we often rely on contrasts. For example, For example, in the house we built for ourselves there are high-gloss glass panels installed in the bathrooms. The interaction between these perfect reflective surfaces and the coarse imperfect concrete is what gives the interior such character.

Andreas Fuhrimann and Gabrielle Hächler

In Milan, in 2018 you opted for gleaming colored cabinets for the individual Laufen series and they contrasted sharply with the concrete architecture of the booth itself.

Gabrielle Hächler: The idea was to quite clearly exaggerate the bathroom character of these cabinets. We thus created a blue space for the prototypes of "The New Classic" series by Marcel Wanders presented there for the very first time; the space formed a highly effective contrast to the white ceramics. At the same time, the color emphasized the series’ classic shapes. Marcel Wanders liked the presentation so much that he quite literally wept.

The outer side of the stand boasted warehouse shelves in which working models stood in rows like in the Laufen production halls. How did you come up with that idea?

Gabrielle Hächler: I simply have a great love of models because they always show the work process behind things. When I saw the racks with the used casts at Laufen I almost flipped, they were so great. I absolutely wanted to present them, and with them the beauty of the production process. At the end, i.e., when we were assembling the booth in Milan, I spontaneously had a “Transformer” sculpture consisting of ceramic workpieces attached to the outside wall by way of reference to the robots that are used in the manufacturing process. A little crazy, but Laufen thankfully went along with the idea and in the final analysis it was highly successful.

In the mean time you have designed three further trade-fair stands for Laufen and therefore essentially created something like a “signature architecture”.

Gabrielle Hächler: The first advance on the booth was for the ISH 2019 sanitary products fair in Frankfurt, and this time the stand was even bigger and had two levels. The fountain that it again boasted in the inner courtyard was inspired in terms of its staggered height by Fontana di Trevi in Rome. Staging such a Baroque theater in a design centered around concrete was a lot of fun. At the imm cologne 2020 furniture fair we went the other way, transposing the shapes onto a smaller, pavilion-like trade-fair booth.

Unfortunately, the booth you have designed for the Salone del Mobile 2020 will not be built as the trade-fair was cancelled owing to the Coronavirus crisis. So what are we missing?

Gabrielle Hächler: Our idea was to perforate the closed box with “display windows”. As a result it would have resembled a house even more and the cabinets would have opened out more clearly toward the trade-fair hall. Added to which, this time there would have been posters on the outer skin. In layers. With pieces of each layer being torn off. That way, the booth would really have had an urban character. We hope that we can realize the idea at a later date.

So you’re continuing?

Gabrielle Hächler: I would gladly concede that at the beginning we did not necessarily think we would be doing the job for so long. That said, it really is a lot of fun. Otherwise we would not do it.

A bright blue cabinet provided the perfect setting at the Salone del Mobile 2018 for the premiere of Marcel Wanders' collection "The New Classic".