Vitra HQ

Aaron Young, senior architect in Richard Wise's team at Ryder, gives an insight into a recent team trip to Basel, Switzerland.



Our journey began with an early and expectedly bumpy train ride on the 8:00 TransPennine Express from Newcastle to Manchester.  Once in the land divided by red and blue we headed to our crown jewel, Manchester City Library.  We were wowed by the architecture of old and the interventions of the new.  Approximately three to four hours into our trip at Spinningfields, a group decision was made that for the remainder of our excursion, a certain abbreviation that rhymes with TIM was to be banned, with the added stipulation that if said abbreviation was uttered it would be met with a suitable punishment.  The word was never uttered again…

Arriving late into Basel, we found a small yet well furnished burger bar for our evening dinner to the soundtrack of what could only be described as a Linkin Park psycho death medley.  This was complimented by an equally bizarre night cap in the local beer hall in the company of a collection of ceramic bears straight out of a Stephen King novel.


The next morning our esteemed host and tour guide for the day, Peter Dunne and his lovely wife Vicky, arranged for the team to be taken first to the Vitra HQ Basel designed by Frank Gehry and then to the Vitra Campus across the border in Germany.  The HQ was in a strange location nestled in an unassuming housing estate.  Externally, it was typical Gehry, abstract sculptural forms appended to a relatively standard rectangular office block.  Internally it made more sense.  We were offered a behind the scenes look at the innovative and obviously beautifully furnished working environment.

Truly inspired and hungry for more we arrived at what can only be described as Disneyland for designers, the Vitra Campus.  A quick rest in the business lounge and a spilt bottle of water later, we were introduced to our knowledgeable and equally comedic campus tour guide Carol which began with a stop at the conference pavilion by Tadao Ando.  A beautifully sculpted concrete zen, surrounding four blossom and filled with silence on the inside.

We then floated over to the Factory Warehouse by Kazuyo Sejima.  An elegant, circular factory (three words not typically used in the same sentence) with a simple yet intricate façade.  Following a visit to Zaha Hadid’s bizarre fire station / come gallery we were treated to an outstanding lunch in the campus café.  To be completely honest, a dissertation could be written on each building in the campus so to summarise; the remainder of the tour consisted of a walk through a history of chairs, factory buildings by Nicolas Grimshaw and Alvaro Siza, a trip down Carsten Holler’s helter-skelter, Frank Gehry’s design museum, Richard Buckminster Fuller’s dome before finishing up at the awesome Vitra Haus by Herzog and de Meuron.

Thoroughly exhausted by design excellence, we wined and dined with our hosts at a very smart local restaurant of their selection.  After a lovely meal the night was still young and in true British tradition we decided to experience Swiss culture at its purest…in a bar called Paddy Reilly’s on St Patrick’s Day…no elaboration required. 


After a slow start, we were back on track and the beautifully prepared itinerary guided us around the Kunstmuseum by Swiss firm Christ & Gantenbein – this smart extension to the existing museum has a bold, angular grey brick façade which compliments the stunning, marble and concrete interior.  A walk through Basel old town was next, the Munster and the Rathaus particular highlights, followed by the Basel university hospital campus featuring more Herzog and de Meuron and an interesting building that changed colour on approach.

The holy grail of architecture was up next, the Novartis Campus.  Chipperfield, Ando, Diener & Diener, Gehry, Moneo, Serra, Markli, SANAA were all within our grasp.  We headed for Herzog’s Messe Basel New Hall, an impressive sculpted façade running the entire length of the street.  We finished the day with lovely evening meal in the top floor of a converted textiles warehouse with an elaborate external staircase to the entrance and a gig venue below.  Our night cap was provided courtesy of the Volkshaus designed by Herzog and de Meuron.


Before leaving for the airport, the group had a free morning to relax and further explore the wonders of Basel. Part of the group ventured out to Renzo Piano’s Beyeler Foundation in Riehen.  The art museum houses modern art classics including Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Paul Klee, Mondrian, Warhol and Van Gogh.  The St Antonius Church was another gem a short walk away from the hotel. An angular monument built entirely of insitu concrete in 1925, this brutalist building sits flush within the streetscape and is a truly wonderful and awe inspiring place to be in.

Apart from a windy landing into Edinburgh, we enjoyed a smooth trip back to Newcastle suitably inspired and a mild addiction to Word Cookies.  All in all, a very successful trip.