“There’s no hope for construction,” explains Andrew Waugh, architect at Waugh Thistleton Architects, as we discuss the catastrophic potential for design in the future. “There’s no hope for it. It has to be completely reinvented and it has to change completely.”
Thankfully, that’s where the new Vitsœ headquarters comes into play. Mark Adams, managing director of the furniture manufacturer, along with a highly diverse team of over 30 specialists – including timber connoisseur Waugh – have constructed a building that is set to become a signature piece of its time. “This is an incredibly important building. I think in years to come people will look back on this building and see it really is a turning point,” says Waugh.
Branching back around five years, the company – known for its commitment to responsible design as well as for its 606 Universal Shelving System, designed by Dieter Rams – was housed in a London studio that “barely kept the rain out, with no natural light, no natural ventilation, hot in the summer and cold in the winter”, Adams tells me. It made clear sense to transfer the Vitsœ studio into a building that represented the company’s way of thinking – a building that, even on an overcast day, would be completely bathed in natural light. “[That was] absolutely fundamental to what we’ve tried to do,” Adams continues.
Since 1959, Vitsœ has produced and evolved furniture that “allows its customers to live better”, as the company states. So why shouldn’t those who create the furniture also experience well-executed, healthy and sustainable standards within a building? Artificiality is prohibited; the company’s newest build has been made to last for decades and will probably endure centuries. One of its remarkable characteristics is the ability to be adapted and changed over time: a “kit of parts”, as Adams describes it, and a “building that will never be finished”.
“[The building’s] longevity and adaptability are absolutely paramount and they are the heart of what Vitsœ has existed for since the 1950s. What we do with our furniture, we are now doing with a building that we have designed from the ground upwards,” says Adams. “We won’t be adding on to the building as such, it will be with regards to the change within.”
Spanning 135m in length, 25m in width and 6m in height, the building has been finely tuned in response to the changing needs of the industry and the company – in terms of the people and the environment. It’s been designed with durability in mind, while leaving a minimal impact on the planet.
The team behind the building includes yacht designer Martin Francis, along with environment and services engineers, structural engineers, delivery architects leading in engineered timber, landscape architects, timber fabricators and industrial sustainability architects – a diverse group, to say the least.
Waugh sees the team’s amalgamation in terms of an orchestra – despite the diversity of specialisms, the passion was indisputable. “We all had slightly different instruments and different harmonies to play, but working together was just the joy,” he says. The result is a functional build that reinvests in the factors that should be fundamental to all design, creating a forward-thinking modern building with one of the oldest and most efficient natural resources available: wood.
“We distilled about 700 years of history into what is unashamedly a modern building, but it’s using an ancient material,” says Adams. “Wood is one of man’s most used materials and we’ve manufactured it in an utterly modern way. It’s blending the old with the best of the new.” Waugh’s specialism in timber was a perfect match for the occasion, and he brought along not only his expertise in the material but a passion for its use.
Vitsœ’s reconfigurable wood-framed headquarters lives and breathes the furniture maker’s commitment to delivering naturalness and sustainability through modern design