Heavy lifting
Architect Juergen Riehm discusses the importance of the psychological nugget when working with Vitsœ

Words & Photography: Vitsœ

“As someone who was born in Germany, my exposure to Dieter Rams was very immediate,” said Juergen Riehm, co-founder of x Architect. With extensive offices in New York and Frankfurt, business partners David Piscuskas and Riehm started their practice in 1983, from a rented one-room office in SoHo, Manhattan. After humble beginnings, they now employ 70 staff who work across a range of award-winning projects, providing architecture services for cultural organisations, commercial workplaces, educational institutions, local and federal governments and residential clients.

Sitting on the corner of 10th Avenue and West 37th, their New York premises stretch out across the 10th floor of a recently renovated 1917 office block in the Hudson Yards district. It’s an area undergoing regeneration on a massive scale, with ongoing construction works clearly audible from the streets below. The noise, however, doesn’t distract from the magnificent views across the city – the Empire State Building is visible from windows on the south-east side, and the Hudson from those facing south-west.

Leaning back in his chair, Riehm explains about moving to Frankfurt to study for a post-graduate qualification in architecture at the renowned Städelschule Academy. Smiling, he recalls, “This was the late 1970s, when I was a student at one of Frankfurt’s last remaining art academies. Occasionally I’d walk past this wonderful 1960’s building that had a furniture showroom on the ground floor. I had no money of course, I couldn’t afford anything, but I was always so curious about their displays. I later learned that the shelves and chairs that the shop called ‘Vitsœ’ was selling were designed by Dieter Rams and even after relocating to the States, I was never able to forget about them. “

“When David and I set up 1100 Architect at the beginning of the 80s, we were finally in a position to include Vitsœ furniture in our designs. One of the more memorable projects was in the 1990s, during the restoration of a large brownstone in Brooklyn. Back then of course, during the pre-internet days, getting hold of certain materials and furniture from abroad wasn’t so easy and although the distribution channels for importing goods were riddled with problems, we always wanted to make our clients aware of things that were not necessarily on sale yet here in the United States. This brownstone was a historic building with lots of original details, so we had a great canvas to work with. We’ve never classed ourselves as ‘traditionalists’, but we’ve always been extremely respectful of history and strongly believe that there’s a much richer expression when you incorporate old with new.”

For every architect, there is a deep desire to find the right solution. There is no easy one-size-fits-all fix and whether the end user is an entire workforce or a solo resident, the end result must enhance the lives of those using the space. Throughout the consultation process, many architects will remain hands-on, dealing with contractors and suppliers and juggling the inevitable calendar of deliveries once the final sign-off for a project’s fixtures and fittings has been achieved.

He explains, “In order for anything we do to be a success, there has to be an element of trust and relinquishing control. I look at Vitsœ in the same way as I would any other contractor – not just in conduct, but also in the knowledge they can bring to any project. Sometimes we’ll be challenged by a client with particularly high expectations, so we need to examine every single possibility to ensure that on the day we hand over the keys, we’re not greeted with a sigh and the dreaded, ‘oh – I thought it would be different…’. Being able to listen and pay attention to that psychological nugget that reveals the real intended use for the space allows the Vitsœ planners to actually save us money. They are one of the few companies that actually do that! Most other brands will always be trying to figure out ways of over-selling, enhancing the basics without reason.

With bright blue skies outside, Riehm explains why he has chosen to specify Vitsœ on so many of the 1100 projects, as well as installing the system in his New York home and office. “ We give (the Vitsœ planning team) an idea of the physical proportions of a room and then we’re shown a variety of ways to utilise the space. We’re given accurate drawings, from which we can compare what we feel works best and know that if we need to tweak or edit, you’re there for us every step of the way. We can pick up the phone to discuss any detail, knowing that you’ve got the history of the project at your fingertips – we don’t have time to run through the entire scenario again. We can look at the plans online, we can send them to clients digitally without fuss, everything is reviewable.

The seamless service aspect is what distinguishes Vitsœ from other companies. From design to installation day – they communicate, they take it seriously. They’re an entity who take full responsibility, so I suppose in that sense, it’s more of a collaboration really.”