The international design fraternity recently descended on Weil am Rhein, near Basel, to witness the opening of furniture manufacturer Vitra's latest architectural gem on its sprawling campus - aka VitraHaus. Herzog & de Meuron's fabulously intriguing structure is a playful stack of charcoal Monopoly-style houses on top of each other, fully glazed at either end. VitraHaus is, in essence, a great big furniture shop - albeit a rather gorgeous one. It showcases the Vitra Home Collection, which comprises re-editions of design classics by the likes of George Nelson, Charles and Ray Eames and Isamu Noguchi, alongside products developed with contemporary designers such as the Bouroullec brothers, Jasper Morrison and Hella Jongerius. The exhibits have been choreographed in a series of desirable living sets - a sort of seductive soft-sell - think Wallpaper* magazine in 3D. What's particularly great is that visitors can test and try everything out. But perhaps the building's best trick is at dusk, when its dark shell disappears from view and the domestic scenes visible behind each window resemble illuminated pictures floating in the sky.
The UK's cultural commentator and design guru, Stephen Bayley, with whom I had the pleasure of working alongside to help launch London's Design Museum, has strong feelings about the notion of beauty (and ugliness, for that matter) and the necessity of providing beauty in today's cities. "What alarms me is that beauty has become a taboo subject, people in authority never use the word beauty ..." he told the regional news organisation, Liverpool Confidential. "It would be good to change that ... somehow discussions of aesthetics have been swamped by the need to be cost-efficient. That is important but we mustn't forget beauty. Maybe every council should have an officer dedicated to beauty, saying things such as, 'you can't build that school, it isn't beautiful'. Good design shouldn't have to cost more than bad design. Let's think like the best of the early Modernist's did, beauty should no longer be the preserve of the privileged, or maybe live to the quote of the old Italian Communist Party, 'the best salami for everyone'." As for creating beauty in our homes - Bayley's philosophy is simple, as recounted in The Independent: "Doing up a home is like food and sex: it should never be rushed. Furnishing our house has been a careful process of acquisition, and patience is immensely important... I do care about detail and would rather do without than put up with something that doesn't satisfy. It is also best not to try to achieve an effect; a home is not a set, it needs to genuinely reflect the characters living within it." Quite.
Yvonne Courtney is the co-founder of design/publishing consultancy and ezine designtastic.net