Herzog & de Meuron : The duet of sublime and the picturesque one
Herzog & de Meuron
The duet of sublime and the picturesque one
Philip Ursprung, August 29, 2010
Pierre de Meuron
Pierre de Meuron


The Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron (both born in 1950 in Bâle, Suiss) have established themselves at the centre of architectural discourse by taking positions that are essentially artistic. They seem to wander imaginatively through the visual world, ranging over times and tastes, man-made and natural products, always with a primary interest in how things come to be made.

In buildings like their acclaimed Tate Modern in London, they and the partners of their firm Harry Gugger and Christine Binswanger have explored the uncertain border between fact and fancy, prose and poem. In 2001 they were honoured for their overall achievement by the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Jacques Herzog
Jacques Herzog


Herzog & de Meuron_40 Bond interior_New York
Herzog & de Meuron_40 Bond interior_New York


Herzog & De Meuron
Herzog & De Meuron


Another aspect of the architects’ work is their fascination with mundane sights and materials and how they may be changed into something startling. This sort of alchemy has been practised by artists such as Alberto Giacometti and Joseph Beuys - and also by pharmaceutical chemists. The motif of the spiral symbolizes such change for Herzog & de Meuron and appears throughout their work: from their very first proposal for the Basel Marktplatz (1979), where the sound of an underground river would be conveyed to the surface through spiralling tunnels, to the cast-iron curtain construction of the Schützenmattstrasse Apartment and Commercial Building (1984–93), the sinuous water-purification system of the Park for the Avenida Diagonal (1989), and the copper-wire wrapping of the Signal Box, Auf dem Wolf (1989-94).

Herzog & de Meuron_Poste d'aiguillage Central CFF, Bâle
Herzog & de Meuron_Poste d'aiguillage Central CFF, Bâle


Herzog & De Meuron_Hospital Pharmacy_Bâle
Herzog & De Meuron_Hospital Pharmacy_Bâle


Herzog & De Meuron_Exhibition at Tate Modern Gallery_London
Herzog & De Meuron_Exhibition at Tate Modern Gallery_London


The process of collecting and organizing materials has been at the heart of Herzog & de Meuron’s work since their breakthrough project for the Ricola Storage Building in Laufen, Switzerland (1986–87), and it continues in such projects as the spectacular Dominus Winery, with its caged stones. The architects’ keen interest in archives and in the compilation of series was a central topic of art in the 1970s, particularly among figures like Robert Smithson, Bernd and Hilla Becher, and Gerhard Richter.

Herzog & De Meuron_Tate Modern Gallery 2012_London
Herzog & De Meuron_Tate Modern Gallery 2012_London


Herzog & De Meuron_Tate Modern Gallery_London
Herzog & De Meuron_Tate Modern Gallery_London


Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing
Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing


A decisive step in Herzog & de Meuron’s career was the incorporation of imprints, moulds, and photographs into their projects. Leading them from an analytical to an allegorical approach, this process radically modified their work and opened new territories for architecture.

Herzog & De Meuron
Herzog & De Meuron


Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo
Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo


Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo
Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo


There is a formal contrast in Herzog & de Meuron’s work between spirals (with their organic symbolism) and the orthogonal forms of industrial mechanics. In projects like the Pilotengasse housing built in Wien-Aspern (1987–92), the double hull of the SUVA House extension (1988–93), the Railway Engine Depot, Auf dem Wolf (1989–95), and the new de Young Museum (1999, projected completion 2004), the architects have built up rationally ordered compositions from parts that retain a discrete individuality. In this way, Herzog & de Meuron present “the simultaneity of different occurences” and allow the outside and inside to interpenetrate (sse the Prada building, Tokyo). Analogies in the world of painting and sculpture run from the works of Helmut Federle to the Minimalist sculptures of Donald Judd.

Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo
Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo


Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo
Herzog & De Meuron_Prada building_Tokyo


Herzog & De Meuron_The Young Museum of Arts_San Francisco
Herzog & De Meuron_The Young Museum of Arts_San Francisco


M. H. de Young Memorial Museum - San Francisco, 2005

The museum was destroyed in the earthquake only a few years after its 1894 opening. Rebuilt in 1921, it was damaged again in 1989.

San Francisco’s de Young Museum, named after its founder, the publisher Michael H. de Young, was closed in 2000, but its troubled existence seems to have stabilised in 2005, when construction of the new building designed by Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron was completed. At first the architects wanted to build a "diffuse" structure: a series of pavilions sprinkled around Golden Gate Park to contain different collections representing different cultures. But later they decided to construct a single building which, while containing works from all over the world, would be able to do justice to their variety while at the same time correlating them in a single design. This is the origin of the three parallel strips between which the park can enter the complex, creating courtyards and large green spaces between the blocks.

Herzog & De Meuron_The Young Museum of Arts_San Francisco
Herzog & De Meuron_The Young Museum of Arts_San Francisco


The underlying idea is the desire to express the possibility of co-existence of different cultures and arts. And in fact the three strips do not simply sit beside each other, but interact to allow visitors to use the space in a flexible way. The search for contact and distancing, connections and sudden interruptions are metaphors for the ongoing exchange of cultures, which however still have their own definite identity. This solution also allows the new architecture to interact with the park, establishing a close relationship with its natural surroundings as well. The complex is designed to be open and permeable and to communicate with the outside world, turning toward the city to invite citizens and visitors to discover it.

Thus the roof is elongated to create an area where people can meet, sheltered from the sun or rain. But the element that stands out visually is the tower, with its irregular forms that stand out from the linearity of the project as a whole to become a new icon on the urban landscape. The tower's panoramic terrace offers a splendid view of the park and the city. The building is clad in a copper-coloured skin with openings here and there to create evocative lights and shadows: a solution that adds vivacity to this building of great character.


Herzog & De Meuron_Allianz Arena_München
Herzog & De Meuron_Allianz Arena_München


Allianz Arena Stadium - Munich, 2006

It's more than an ordinary sports centre or soccer stadium: Allianz Arena is a fascinating urban icon, both architecture and stage set, capable of transforming the landscape in which it stands.

Munich's Allianz Arena Stadium has a new look thanks to a restyling project by two Swiss architects, Herzog & de Meuron, who also designed Beijing's Olympic Stadium for the 2008 Olympics. What makes the new stadium truly spectacular is its "skin": an ever-changing covering made up of about 3000 panels of polytetrafluoroethylene, which change colour at different times of day and for different sports events. The pearly white visible by day may be lit up at night or be transformed into red or blue to match the colours of the teams playing in the stadium. The "cushions" on the Allianz Arena are made up of two sheets of EFTE (Ethylene Tetra Fluor Ethylene), an undeformable, strong, 100% recyclable material.

Herzog & De Meuron_Allianz Arena_München
Herzog & De Meuron_Allianz Arena_München


The unusual lighting is made possible by a system of electronically powered fluorescent bulbs. The big ring measuring 840 metres in diameter contains 66 thousand seats and is completed by an evocative crater-like structure. This ring is the most interesting thing about the project, a true landmark made of light that has become a tourist attraction in itself. The stadium has 3 orders of stands, made of reinforced concrete, so that their heaviness contrasts with the stadium's lightweight covering. In actual fact the composition of the façade is very similar to that of the roof; its surface is also made up of rhomboid panels measuring 6 to 8 metres long and formed of two membranes. In the roof both of these are clear, while in the façade one of them is white and the other transparent.

The result is an effect of continuity and great harmony, in a project in which unity does not become monolithic thanks to the changing colours and lights. The lightness of the Allianz Arena is further emphasised by its detachment from the ground. It is about 4 metres above the level of the plaza, giving it the vibrant feel of a "suspended" building. This is a building that refuses to be just a container, but is in itself a form of entertainment, a show.


Herzog & De Meuron_Allianz Arena_München
Herzog & De Meuron_Allianz Arena_München


Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing
Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing


Olympic Stadium -  Beijing, 2006

The stadium that is to host the 2008 Olympics is a futuristic "interwoven" building built to a design by Swiss architects Herzog and de Meuron.

The stadium's 91 thousand seats are arranged in a circular structure with an unusual meshed roof that has inspired the Chinese to nickname it the "bird's nest". The project won an international competition announced in 2002 with its original solution inspired by the weave of a nest made up of thousands of interconnected twigs. The project is made even more complex by the fact that this "mesh" is not only its roof and cladding, but its façade and the container for its stairways. The most important material used in the project is cement, used to make the "twigs" in the nest; a series of inflatable "cushions" between them gives the stadium a padded look from outside. In addition to the strong aesthetic power of the mesh, the metal elements have an important structure function, joining and interweaving to support one another.

Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing
Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing


Though the viewer gets the impression that the arrangement is random, almost as if the "twigs" had fallen in place, the meeting points of the various elements and their direction in the nest are of course carefully calculated. The particular function of the stadium, which will be the main site of the 2008 Olympic Games, suggested that it ought to be possible to close it off completely. And in fact the roof in the central part is a clear membrane through which daylight can pass. The rest of the structure is covered by a translucent layer to shelter it from the weather and a second layer providing acoustic insulation. Herzog and de Meuron's architecture, with its thoughtful choice of materials and application of new building solutions, has made the project an opportunity for experimentation and research, both in the "creative" design and on the building site.

Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing
Herzog & De Meuron_Olympic Stadium_Beijing


The stadium looks like a spaceship that has landed in the centre of the area that will host all the Olympic facilities, with a silent imposition and attractive gently undulating forms. Internal routes are "marked" by slate elements with little bamboo groves, blocks of stone and covered gardens here and there.The visual impact of this architecture in which façade and structure are the same thing is surprising, despite the simplicity of the idea behind it. Whether seen from afar or from nearby, the construction amazes us with its geometry, its design, and its interweaves, so natural and yet so complex.

Herzog & De Meuron_Water Cube_Munich
Herzog & De Meuron_Water Cube_Munich


VitraHaus in Weil am Rhein: Tradition and complexity. 2007

The Vitra Campus in Weil am Rhein will soon have a new showroom by Herzog & de Meuron. Colourful, joyful, the VitraHaus - as the project is called - proposes a juxtaposition and superimposition of volumes shaped like elongated versions of traditional houses. The project presentation reads, "Herzog & de Meuron have based their design on the local standard house typology extruded and stacked in an irregular pile". Stacked up and pressed together, the houses have simple shapes but create complex spatial configurations.

Herzog & De Meuron_HDM Project
Herzog & De Meuron_HDM Project


The interior is designed as a sequence of surprising views of the landscape. The project is the latest new addition to a complex where architects of the calibre of Frank Gehry, Zaha Hadid, Tadao Ando and more have worked.VitraHaus will also house exhibitions and a part of the collection; in addition to the exhibition galleries, it will have a shop, a restaurant, and a conference hall. Vitra's new "house" will open its doors in 2009.

Herzog & De Meuron_The Elbe Philharmonic of Hamburg
Herzog & De Meuron_The Elbe Philharmonic of Hamburg


Herzog & De Meuron_Jingzi Lamp_Marc Eggimann
Herzog & De Meuron_Jingzi Lamp_Marc Eggimann


Herzog & De Meuron_Exhibition at Tate Modern Gallery_London
Herzog & De Meuron_Exhibition at Tate Modern Gallery_London


Herzog & De Meuron_Jingzi Lamp_Marc Eggimann
Herzog & De Meuron_Jingzi Lamp_Marc Eggimann


Herzog & De Meuron_Flamenco Ciudad
Herzog & De Meuron_Flamenco Ciudad


Herzog & De Meuron_Laban Centre_London
Herzog & De Meuron_Laban Centre_London


Herzog & De Meuron
Herzog & De Meuron


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