Vitsœ's New Headquarters Show How Great Modern Architecture Is a Team Sport

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Vitsoe Interior

It has been said that "success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan." By that standard, Vitsœ's new headquarters and factory is the most successful building ever, with many parents. Located in a town near Birmingham with the wonderful name of Royal Leamington Spa, it is where Vitsœ produces the modular 606 Universal Shelving System and the 620 chair designed by TreeHugger hero Dieter Rams.

Anthony Thistleton

Anthony Thistleton/ Photo Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I first learned of the project when it was presented by architect Anthony Thistleton at the Wood Solutions Fair in Toronto a few weeks ago and now Dezeen is showing it with a big team of professionals contributing, including the client Vitsoe and and yacht designer Martin Francis. Anthony Thistleton describes the process:

The project was a great exemplar of collaborative working with a highly involved client, a clear design concept, and a talented and committed consultant team. As is often the case, the simple functionality and beauty of the finished product belie the amount of work that it took to achieve it - to the credit of all those involved.
Rams principles

© Ten Principles for good design via Vitsoe

Certainly, a lot of credit should go right back to Dieter Rams, and his ten principles for good design. The building is all of these. It is certainly innovative in its use of LVL (Laminated Veneer Lumber); Where Cross-Laminated Timber (CLT) is sometimes called plywood on steroids, LVL is like plywood on a diet, thin layers of veneer all lined up in the same direction. Waugh Thistleton notes that "this high performance engineered hardwood permits beams and columns to have smaller cross sections than softwood glulam, thereby offering greater elegance to the timber structure."

beam and slab detail

© Dirk Lindner / LVL meets CLT

It is definitely understandable, as everything is exposed and "unfinished." Engineer James O'Callaghan tells Dezeen that "All the elements are self-explanatory and simple in their connection." It makes the building more useful and long-lasting, because "Joists, beams and columns can be disassembled and reconfigured; parts can be added or removed." It is Thorough, down to the last detail; " The outcome is an expression of collaborating with the client to meet its brief of a structural system which is boldly legible yet elegantly arranged"

vitsoe factory area

© Dirk Lindner

It is also environmentally friendly. It is built from renewable wood, and according to the architects,

...the new HQ and production building is naturally ventilated and naturally lit during daylight hours via its north-facing saw-tooth roof-lights. Prevailing wind provides cross ventilation while the high ceiling height allows heat to rise for comfort in summer.
credit: Dirk Lindner

© Dirk Lindner

And damn if it isn't aesthetic.

Windows bring the outside in, connecting employees to the surrounding landscape, while passers-by may glimpse activities within. The kitchen and dining area face directly north offering a panoramic view of the silver birch trees in the adjacent urban community wood.
vitsoe exterior

© Dirk Lindner

I have often used Bronwyn Barry's phrase "Passive House is a team sport" and one can certainly paraphrase it here, a success with many fathers and mothers and certainly a team sport. In the Dezeen article, credit for inspiration is given to " the great engineers of the Victorian era, including Crystal Palace designer Joseph Paxton." But surely they could have at least given a bit to Dieter Rams. Here is the team roster as published on Dezeen:

Building concept and design: Vitsœ and Martin Francis
Structural engineer: Eckersley O'Callaghan
Building environment and services engineer: Skelly & Couch
Delivery architect: Waugh Thistleton Architects
Landscape architects: Kim Wilkie and Wilder Associates
Industrial-sustainability consultancy: EPSRC Centre for Industrial Sustainability, University of Cambridge
Construction management: JCA Concept Construction