Sunday, 8 March 2015

Design dreams: Vitra Haus

In Weil am Rhein, Germany - in the triangle where Germany, Switzerland and France meet -
 is a place that is a magnet for anyone interested in modern design and architecture. It's VitraHaus, the flagship store of furniture design company Vitra. 

Vitra Haus itself is in this building - a haphazard-looking stack of classic pitched-roof houses designed by Herzog & de Meuron (currently designing the new extension to London's Tate Modern) and contains Vitra's Home Collection.

But the Vitra 'campus' includes a whole collection of contemporary buildings designed by an amazing line up of some of the world's best known contemporary architects, including Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid and Alvaro Siza. 

The Design Museum above is designed by Frank Gehry and the geodesic dome used for events is based on Buckminster Fuller designs. Below, an original Airstream Kiosk selling ice creams and Balancing Tools sculpture by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen.  Even the bus stop outside the campus is a design classic - by Jasper Morrison,with wire Eames chairs for seating!

Inside Vitra Haus, everything from the café and reception area is a visual treat. 

Spread across ascending floors are icons of 20th century design; here a collection of Isamu Noguchi's lamps, Alvar Aalto's Stool 60 and Table 90 and Charles & Ray Eames' rocker.

I loved how the green surroundings of Weil am Rhein are visible everywhere in these light- filled interior spaces. Here a desk by Jean Prouvé and Alvar Aalto's Paimio armchair are positioned for the view.

There are office spaces to inspire ...

and even the kids get designer furniture and toys: Eames elephants and a Hang it All, and junior Panton chairs. 

A collection of chairs is stacked framed against a glass window where mirrors reflect the car park below.

Vitra Haus, Weil am Rhein, Germany, 2014

Saturday, 21 February 2015


Driving from Bolzano and Merano in the South Tyrol into Switzerland, the Flüela Pass takes you through the Swiss Alps.  
The summit (it's one of the highest in Switzerland), minus winter snow, looks barren and rocky

but soon opens out into something altogether more picture-postcard-Alps

Descending via Davos (a surprisingly unlovely town) it's late afternoon by the time you reach Luzern, where all is peace and serenity on the shores of the lake.

There's time to walk over to the KKL - Kultur- und Kongresszentrum - in Europa Platz, designed by French architect Jean Nouvel (responsible for the fabulous Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris - I posted about it here

where performers in a World Band event are chilling in front of sunset views across the river

before heading to the old town across the wooden Kapellbrücke, Europe's oldest (1333) covered bridge (arguably, since much of it was rebuilt after burning down not long ago when someone tossed a lighted cigarette at it)

for a drink on the waterside while the light fades.

Luzern, Switzerland, 2014

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Art in nature in the Dolomites

A sculpture park with a difference - sculptures that biodegrade - is a hidden gem tucked away in a high, remote area of Italy's Dolomite mountains.

Getting there requires some determination and faith - there's a long drive along very narrow twisting, unsigned mountain roads - but all is forgiven when you reach this extraordinarily beautiful place. 

Artesella is an exhibition of art in nature in the woods of the Sella valley,Val di Sella, about 40 km from Trento in the South Tyrol.

Roger Rigorth, Drago, 2013

Several hundred international artists from around the world have come here since the 1980s to create artworks from materials found in the forest.

Anton Schaller, Rifugio, 2011

Works appear randomly along a 3 km walking route, called ArteNatura, through the forest. 

Each one is intended to express a relationship with nature. All are made of stones, leaves, branches and other organic materials collected in the surrounding Alpine forest.

Sally Matthews, Cervi/Deer, 2014

The idea is that they will ultimately naturally degrade into the landscape: 
'the works come out of the landscape, they inhabit it and,according to nature's timescale, they return to it again', according to Artesella's manifesto.

Aeneas Wilder, no title

In the summer, Artesella also thrives as a cultural centre - there's a natural amphitheatre in a clearing where outdoor concerts and theatre performances are held in this incredible mountain setting.

Alfio Bonnano, Chiocciola/Snail, 2012

Steven Siegel, Bridge II, 2009 - made entirely of old newspapers

Patrick Dougherty Tana Libera Tutti, 2011, bottom right

The largest-scale and most impressive work is the Cattedrale Vegetale, tree cathedral, created by Italian artist Giuliano Mauri in 2001. 

Giuliano Mauri, Cattedrale Vegetale, 2011

Over 3000 branches have been twisted and woven into naves and columns. In time the hornbeam trees planted within each column will replace the supporting log structure as it rots away and dies, preserving the shape of the cathedral.

I took these photos on a visit in September last year in early autumn. Since the works decay and disappear over time, the curators recognise the importance of keeping a photographic record, and this function has been taken on by a local, Aldo Fedele. This is one of his amazing pictures of the cathedral under snow, which makes me badly want to return to Artesella in the depths of winter ...  

Photo credit: Aldo Fedele

Artesella, Borgo Valsugana, Italy - making art in and with nature.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Dolomites - peaks of perfection

North of the flat region of Venice, Verona and the Valpolicella vineyards are the Dolomite mountains.

They have distinctive charcoal-and-white sheer faces ... 

which on the day that we were winding upwards along hairpin bends were blending photogenically with overcast grey skies.

Snapping from the car window I watched how the character of towns and villages changes completely up here, making you wonder if you've unknowingly left Italy and arrived in Austria. Even the shape of the church steeples is different.

We were headed for the little mountain town of San Cassiano - a ski resort high up in the Dolomites. This is the Alta Badia region of the South Tyrol, and a place where cultures and languages collide.

It's strange to have to remind yourself that you're in Italy when you're being served muesli, sauerkraut or strudel, depending on the time of day, by women with Tyrolese braids, wearing dirndls and speaking German.

A majority of people here are German speakers and some of these wish it were independent or could be reunited with Austria.

But while Italian speakers are in the minority, there's another vocal linguistic minority group of Ladin speakers. Ladin (a Romance language) has been spoken here since the days of the Roman Empire (see here).

It's the third official language in this region and another of Europe's linguistic minorities that is fighting for preservation, with its own schools and media channels.

St Hubertus is one of two Michelin starred restaurants in San Cassiano, making it one of the few ski resorts that is also a foodie destination

Multiple identities aside, this area is incredibly beautiful, in or out of the skiing season ...

Gondola lifts operate outside of the skiing season for mountain hikers

Duvets and general bettzeug airing over balconies, German/Austrian-style

... surrounded on all sides by the awe inspiring Dolomites, the Monti Pallidi, Pale Mountains, as the Italians named them, for the changing colours of the white rocks.

Südtirol/Alto Adige, September 2014

Saturday, 24 January 2015


Just outside Verona, surrounded by the vineyards of Valpolicella 

is a hotel which from the outside appears a gracious, classical Venetian villa

with landscaped gardens, a marble fountain and traditionally designed pool.

And although there are some startling, unexpected features

and a foretaste of eye-popping, intense colour

still, none of it quite prepares you for what you see when you walk in the front door.

At the Byblos Art Hotel every public space and bedroom suite is filled with an extraordinary permanent collection of contemporary art and design.

The work of Italian architect and designer Alessandro Mendini (see here and here)

it's a fabulous eclectic design mix of iconic 20th century furniture design and works by contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst, Anish Kapoor, Cindy Sherman and many others, against a backdrop of 17th century Venetian architecture.

Your head is constantly turning in this place, craning, noticing not just the big startling visuals in a riot of colours, but the small unexpected details that surprise you everywhere you look

psychedelic trompe l'oeil passage leading to bedrooms

the conference room is tamer, calmer, but beautifully designed in Byblos's signature intense orange

Dali's lips meet Keith Haring's dogs

a winking, talking, disembodied head keeps guests company in the dining room 

blinking electric sculpture on the stairway down to the spa

If contemporary art and design are your thing this place is heaven, and even if not, it is definitely one of the most unusual and memorable hotel experiences you're likely to have. I totally loved it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails