Tane Garden House

A conversation with Tsuyoshi Tane

How did the project begin and what were your initial thoughts?

Tsuyoshi Tane: When Rolf picked us up by car and drove us to the Vitra Campus, he told me about his childhood, about his memories, recounting how he used to come here with his grandmother when it was only a large field. The Vitra Campus came into being over a number of years. He was thinking of bringing nature back in the next phases of the Vitra Campus, guided by the idea of sustainability. In support of this goal, he had already commissioned the Oudolf Garten. Then suddenly, Rolf asked me: ‘Tsuyoshi, would you be interested in designing a garden house?’

How did you end up with the final design?

It took three years to design the Garden House. We had many conversations and talks and at the end of the day, it just needed time. We were not only using local materials, but also learning to express the local grammar, patterns, details and techniques, as if learning to pronounce a local language. The final result is a unique, primitive and warm form of architecture.

What were the challenges of designing a house that serves multiple needs?

The challenge came in the process of making a garden house for the gardeners, then adding the use of a public observation platform as well as a kitchen garden for the employees, etc. In each step of the process, we had to learn how to meet the challenge and determine what to look for and how to find local materials and techniques that could support sustainable building.

What does ‘Archaeology of the Future’ refer to?

Like archaeologists, we begin a long process of exploration and digging up the memory of a place. It is a process of surprise and discovery, a quest to encounter things we did not know, what we had forgotten, what has been lost through modernisation and globalisation. We believe that a place will always have memories deeply embedded in the ground and in history. We believe that memory does not belong to the past, but is the driving force that creates architecture. Through this process of thinking about the future from the memory of a place, archaeology gradually becomes architecture. We call this ‘Archaeology of the Future’.

How was that principle applied to the Tane Garden House?

We were researching in order to dig deeper into the origin of the garden as a human creation and then the necessity of an accompanying house or hut. After some research, Rolf invited us to visit the Swiss Open-Air Museum Ballenberg, which prompted us to dig further and uncover the role of village life in terms of sustainability.

How important is the sourcing of the construction materials?

We were interested in designing this project with ‘overground’ materials. Today, the building industry requires certain standards along with insurance and certifications and many buildings are made from highly processed ‘underground’ materials. As a result, we have lost craftsmanship and our understanding of organic materials and can no longer construct and repair buildings in a sustainable way.

Are the materials used for the Garden House durable? Will they age with dignity and develop a beautiful patina?

Yes, the Vitra Garden House materials are durable and sustainable. The organic materials are soft compared to hard industrial materials. Therefore, they accept the forces of time and age with dignity and acquire the beauty of patina. Even when specific care is required to repair or replace something, it can be done by people in a sustainable way.

How did the current Vitra Campus layout and buildings influence you or give you direction?

We are young architects and the Garden House is surrounded by masterpieces from some of the industry’s greats. Of course, the scale and needs are different, but we follow the design spirits of independence and modesty. We are located next to the Oudolf Garten and Umbrella House, but also tried to imagine the future of the Vitra Campus.

Vitra strives for longevity in its products. Does the Garden House also live up to this aspiration?

Definitely. Today, the duration of design and architecture is shorter than the average human lifespan. The true quality of design and architecture is when it can endure the passing of time, living on from one generation to the next.

Publication date: 21.7.2023
Images: Vitra; Julien Lanoo