Still with my head in the Parisian atmosphere I came home to repack my bags and fresh up for my next trip. With only a few hours sleep I arrived at Brussels airport for my second trip to Germany. This was my first event with the AINB (association for interior architects) so I was a little bit nervous, because I’m still a work in progress. I was so excited to go on this trip because we were going to visit three important factories in the design world, namely Vitra (design furniture), Duravit (design sanitary) and Axor (design tabs from Hans Grohe).
We landed at Basel airport (the three-land point) and after a royal breakfast we were ready for our first visit! Our first stop was Vitra and boy oh boy this one gave me goose bumps. I wanted to visit this place for such a long time, but never had or took the chance. The architecture of the different buildings on this site only, are for an interior designer like the best chocolate in the world; buildings from Tadao Ando Zaha Hadid and the most impressive Vitrahaus by Herzog & De Meuron, which fascinated me from the inside out.
We got a guided tour on the site and saw the assemblage of the famous Eames office chair. This process fascinated me; it looks a little bit like Ikea you go pick up the necessary parts for your furniture and you put it together but on a very high level of course. The chairs made by Vitra, are constantly tested and improved, if necessary even though they are in collection for an eternity. Even their research center is quiet impressive.
After that, we went for a little tour on site. We saw different buildings for storage and the distribution. We also visited the fire station by that Zaha Hadid, Which was very impressive because of the sloping walls. It is so fascinating that concrete can leave this impression on a person. Off course I’ve learned of this building in school and it’s always special to see it in real life. The site is still in development and any addition will be a gem what architecture concerns.
After a quick lunch we explored the office showroom. Here you see the power of design in a different form. What I like about their collection is that they give a cocooning touch to the office environment. In a busy world where we have to perform more and more, it’s nice that several options exist to connect us in our own bubble where we can meet these demands without distraction. Unfortunately I never had the opportunity to design an office space, but at least I am prepared ;).
Before we went to the Vitra museum (designed by Frank Gehry) we stopped at the conference pavilion by Tadao Ando. For me he is a master of light, acoustics and serenity. These elements were clearly felt in the different spaces that bathed in light. The spaces consist largely of concrete have a breathtaking acoustics. This is due to the perforated wooden panels. For me, Ando is designer who adage “less is more is more” perfectly. Being in this building made met instantly humble.
At the Vitra museum the outside fascinated me more than inside. The deconstructive form of the building reminds me of the fantasy of a child building a tower or impossible house with blocks. The inner side revealed the complexity of the building. I felt that it had a less appealing effect on the exhibition and it had to be formed into spaces and not vice versa. I was paying mor attention to the building than the exhibition itself.
The last building stole my heart on the inside out, namely the Vitrahaus. The building an accumulation of elongated houses looks like a childish fantasy, but then in reality. The building is a masterpiece in terms of stability and will have been a pain in the ass to construct, but this complexity is very well hidden. The building contains a souvenir shop and a restaurant on the ground floor and the rest forms a super cozy showroom with breathtaking views. Here I truly did not want to leave! All rooms filled with cozy domestic (design) settings combined with a view on the mountains, where do I sign?
With this we ended our first visit. There remained us a long drive to the Hotel Ritter in Durbach, where we checked-in in our comfortable deluxe rooms and got a nice dinner to closedown this wonderful first day.
After a short but good night’s rest and a hearty breakfast we were ready for our second factory visit to Duravit. After a beautiful drive we arrived at the largest toilet in the world designed by Philippe Starck. This building stands out in a traditional mountain village.
A funny German man who gave us a brief history lesson about the company and the product was our guide for this day. With this information we were ready for a tour in the factory. We would see how porcelain sanitary ware is made. The temperature was quite tropical in the factory and there was a lot of noise, but with a headset and a bottle of water we were more than prepared. Unfortunately we could not take pictures, but believe me; it was impressive to see!
The first step is the creation of the liquid mixture, which consists of kaolin, quartz and feldspar. Here it was dusty and load and we were not allowed to stand very close with our cellphone in our pockets because of big magnets. After that we went to the place where they make the molds. Depending on the material is could be used a number of times. So this section is in full swing during particular periods.
For products that are on point a mechanical process is used and for new or more complex products, the process is completely manual. Now even the products made by a machine still need some handicraft. It comes mainly to touching up and making of the apertures.The drying process is very important here, because the porcelain shrinks still several percent. It reminds me a little bit of a Pottery with vases or plates but instead with toilet pots. After the drying process the porcelain is glazed two times.
They are controlled in every step of the production process at the least default, that we not see in the first second. If possible this will be retouched. In the factory there are men called the dentist. They are the specialists in eliminating defaults like they have never existed. Before we went to see these specialists we met the guys who do the application of the logo. One of them wanted to give me a little Duravit tattoo but I don’t like to be labeled : D. Luckily youtube shows you this interesting production proces:
After this fascinating tour of the factory, it was time for lunch with a view. The building located next to a river in the Mountains is an incredible location to work and to certainly during your break you can dream away by this view. We have an expression in Dutch called “de pot op” (Get lost) and you could take it literally. For a group portret we had to go stand in this big toilet; an experience that the necessary hilarity.
Then we got a tour of the various collections in the different showrooms and unlike my colleagues, I have not really discovered something new, because I am well trained in the sanitary business . The presentation was very nice and let the products more come into its own. So that was how the second visit came to an end and here we were given a small gift home. You may guess what it was, twice: p a toilet potty course.
“You better save the best for last” this lyric says it all. The factory visit at Axor – Hans Grohe left a deep impression on me. I thought this would be a fully automated production, but oh boy was I wrong! The passion and expertise of these people you felt from miles away. There comes more craftsmanship in the making progress than you and I could think. The slightest error will be immediately removed out of the process and will be fixed if possible or recycled. So first we had the chance to see this incredible making process and off course no camera’s allowed.
We saw how the raw material was heated and pressed in a form that started to look like a tab. In the following steps this tab became more and more sophisticated. Each tab is treated individually and updated manually as in where machinery inadequate. Also very step of this process was so interesting to see. I can talk hours about this production process but Hansgrohe has made an interesting movie about this process, so when you are curious; just take a look.
Our next stop was the Aquademie, where they offered us a snack and a coffee in order to recuperate for the next program point. The history of the company and the bathroom we got in an original way. The exhibition consisted of a hall of fame with all major developments over the years in sanitary but also other things. It shows that this family business still stays humble although it’s a very big company. We also saw the company movie. The evolution of the bathroom translated in 7 bathrooms where you saw that in the beginning the bathroom was not that important, but that changed over these years and that made me a little nostalgic.
My grand parents never had a true bathroom. It was located in the kitchen area separated by a curtain. As a little child I found it very fascinating.
Then it went smoothly into the showroom where various designers were given their own space to give their translation of the bathroom from the future. (dreaming loudly about that perfect bathroom) Maybe if the bathtub was also my bed and kitchen? Luckily dreaming away is allowed. The presentation of the products was really amazing.
After lunch (with an awesome view) we had a workshop with Philippe Grohe himself. We had a discussion about new exclusive products. Of course I was the quiet one, because I have not a lot of experience and it is tough world for someone who is thing to find her way in this world. So I listened carefully to those who have lots of that to learn more. I was impressed how easy it was to talk to this man who works in this amazing company. It is one thing to create success, but it is another thing to not rise above that success.
So with this last visit my kind of fashion week came to an end. We were spoiled during this whole trip and got a lot of goodies. So grateful to have such an amazing week, were I learned a lot and had a confirmation that how hard it is to find your way as a designer, as long as there is passion there is a way to reach your goals in life.
P.S. Pictures used in this post are my own and taken by a journalist who joined us during this trip. I want to thank the AINB for organizing such an amazing trip and also Vitra, Duravit & Axor (Hansgrohe) for their dedication, passion for their product and fascinating tour. The selection of pictures and things to tell was so hard, that is why it took me a while to create this post.