05 Feb 2019 • Tracey Ingram
Swarovski’s Snøhetta-designed factory is open – but not as open as one might hope
Picture a factory – any factory. Chances are you’ve conjured up an image of earmuffed workers shouting above the clatter of clanking steel in a crude concrete complex. Not at Swarovski’s Manufaktur. While such spaces typically prioritize function over form, Swarovski’s ‘crystal atelier of the 21st century’ was built to be flaunted. Why else would you get the architects at Snøhetta on board, if not to infuse the project with Scandinavian design sensibilities?
Located in Wattens near the Austrian city of Innsbruck, the 7,000-sq-m Manufaktur is saturated in sunlight. This departure from the standard factory typology makes so much sense for Swarovski’s products. Light, after all, brings crystals to life. ‘We tried not to interpret the physical properties of crystals in our building geometry,’ explained Patrick Lüth, managing director of Snøhetta’s Innsbruck studio. ‘Instead, we have tried to understand what makes crystal so special and attractive, and to use these ephemeral qualities to create a specific atmosphere. The space has an incredible amount of daylight penetration, which we believe is unparalleled in the typical production facility context.’
The scheme also includes a staircase that doubles as stadium-style seating during meetings, a coffee spot for social stops, and inspiration rooms that highlight what’s possible with Swarovski’s glitzy goods.
All this talk of inclusivity and transparency suggests a new open-door policy at Swarovski
Airy, bright and open are not adjectives typically associated with a factory. But Snøhetta’s intervention reflects a change of attitude in Swarovski’s inner workings. Over dinner at the opening ceremony, a number of collaborating designers mention that every aspect of the company felt very secretive during prior visits. Manufaktur, though, was designed with transparency in mind. Swarovski still has bigger, grittier factories on site, but Snøhetta’s building is a place for designers and clients to quickly see their ideas take shape as prototypes. ‘The Swarovski Manufaktur sets a new standard for inclusive fabrication facilities,’ said Kjetil Trædal Thorsen, founding partner of Snøhetta. ‘Bringing clients, designers, artists, researchers, machine operators, technicians and the public into one space under one roof is going to change how we think about these relationships in the future.’
All this talk of inclusivity and transparency – and the mention of ‘the public’ – suggests a new open-door policy at Swarovski, one that’s in line with the porous-office movement we explore in Frame 126. Does this mean curious crystal fanatics can witness quartz, sand and minerals transform into glittering gems before marvelling at the Swarovski Crystal World art space next door? Not yet, in any case. Although there are apparently future plans to welcome a wider audience, particularly to the corporate archives, visitation is currently limited to collaborating designers, clients and press. We’ll be keeping an eye out to see if Swarovski lives up to its promise.