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The latest structure to be built at the starchitect-designed headquarters of Vitra is the VitraHaus by Herzog & de Meuron, an apparent burst of architectural energy that is in fact a meticulously planned vision of chaos.

The entrance to VitraCampus, the headquarters and production compound of furniture manufacturer Vitra in Weil am Rhein, Germany, is marked by a spectacular new structure. VitraHaus, designed by Basel-based architects Herzog & de Meuron, comprises of 12 archetypical gable houses stacked on top of each other up to five storeys high at seemingly random angles. The visual effect is at once both familiar in its residential references and exotic in its striking three-dimensional assemblage.

While the VitraHaus might appear to be an architect’s avant-garde indulgence, it is in fact a meticulously considered response to Vitra’s brief to create a building with the primary purpose of presenting its Home Collection of furniture and objects. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron’s use of traditional-looking houses has created what they call a “domestic scale”. The idea is that customers are able to view Vitra’s mix of design classics, re-editions and contemporary furniture in spaces that look and feel more like their home than a gallery.

As well as showrooms, the VitraHaus contains the Vitra Design Shop, a café and conference rooms. Herzog & de Meuron – whose most famous building is arguably the conversion of a power station to become London’s Tate Modern gallery – term the structure’s labyrinthine character as a “secret world”, though this description belies the architects’ vision of carefully organized chaos. Whereas outside the houses look to be positioned for maximum visual effect, inside it is apparent that the glazed walls of the houses all point to framed views of Basel cityscapes, the Black Forest or the Vosges Mountains.

Commissioned in 2006, the VitraHaus joins a campus of buildings designed by some of the world’s most influential architects. Zaha Hadid built her very first structure here; Tadao Ando constructed his first building outside of Japan; and The Vitra Design Museum was the first work of Frank Gehry to be built outside of North America. Guarding the gate to this architectural theme park, Herzog & de Meuron’s VitraHaus gives a taste of what’s to come.

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