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LOSTATSEA.NET > FEATURES >

November 28, 2000
"architecture conceived less as an acted space than as space in action"

A small architecture company, based in Basel, Switzerland, has lately caught the attention of art and architecture lovers worldwide. Most widely known for the design and construction of the new Tate Modern museum in London, they have in fact built a variety of buildings with new and fascinating concepts during the past decade.

The small office is comprised of four architects - Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, Harry Gugger and Christine Binswanger, although it is for the ideas and personalities of Herzog & de Meuron that the office has become world renown.

To Herzog and de Meuron, architecture is an opportunity to illuminate the fullness of the spaces in which we live and work, to create an "experience" that appeals to all the senses. In doing so, they create pragmatic designs that solve problems through radically inventive means - their buildings can be seen as exchanges between tradition and innovation, minimal geometry and elaborate ornament, movement and stability, natural and industrial materials.

Their concepts use simple and unimproved manufactured products - plywood, bitumen pasteboard, durisol disks, prefabricated concrete disks - in a simple yet spectacular way in which old and preexisting buildings are not replaced but altered, taken into consideration, and made to be part of a new whole. In doing so, the architects create references in their designs between the content and the use of the buildings - the undulation in a swimming pool design, the copper surface as a packing for electronics stored inside, and so on.

"architecture creates its own reality outside the state of built or unbuilt, and is comparable to the autonomous reality of a painting or a sculpture"

Perhaps the most important facet of their innovative and widely appealing approach is the fact that Herzog & de Meuron are conceiving museums as an encounter between public and private space and as a collaboration between architecture and art. Although far removed from traditional architecture, their approach is catching on and landing them jobs around the globe. Before they built the pricey $200 million Tate Modern in London Herzog and de Meuron had been building museums and cultural centers throughout nearby Germany (Bonn, Otterlo, Munich) and Switzerland (Zurich, Basel) and as far away as Teneriffa, in the Canary Islands. Already planned are projects in London (the Laban Dance Centre), San Francisco, California (the De Young Museum), and Austin, Texas (the Blanton Museum of Art).

What is it that creates the small firm's international reputation for building havens of art and culture? In the words of University of Texas President, L. Faulkner, "Herzog and de Meuron is known for creating highly imaginative buildings that stand in harmony with their purpose, materials, and site." J. Hite, the director of the Blanton Museum of Art in Austin adds: "Of the many outstanding architects who pursued the Blanton design commission, Herzog & de Meuron stood out for their international perspective, collaborative approach and sensitivity to the museum's teaching mission."

In a museum built by Herzog & de Meuron, art is no longer just a temporary inhabitant of a simple building with the purpose of protection and storage - it is rather a symbiosis between content and container, between the works of art presented, and the ever-present artwork that surrounds them. Detailed project information and data for Herzog & de Meuron can be found on the German Architecture Information website.

Signal Tower 4 of the Federal Swiss Railway is a building that hosts mostly electronic equipment for the directing of trains. The concrete body of the Kubus is surrounded by broad copper bands that are opened before the windows by rotating, in order to let daylight penetrate into the building inside. The building as a whole references its purpose of electronic control of switches and signals, and furthermore has the effect of a Faraday-cage, thus protecting electronics against unwanted external influences.

The SUVA building (Swiss Institute for Accident Insurance) is outstanding in the way that the owners decided for the retention of the existing building of 1950 and a cultivation under utilization of the existing structure. A very specific solution resulted, with a glass shell surrounding the old and remodeled building, covering the existing structure within and adding additional space.

But most impressive of Herzog & de Meuron's completed works is without doubt the Tate Modern in London, which was completed this year. There is not much to write that can convey the building's scope and style in words, so I will simply advise a visit to the Tate Modern website, complete with 3D Panorama. For those interested in the complete words of Herzog & de Meuron there is also a Birkhäuser book available from online retailers such as Amazon with nearly 500 color and black and white photos and illustrations spanning 250 pages.

SEE ALSO: www.archinform.net/arch/291.htm

--
Samuel Klaus
Samuel Klaus, a native of Zurich, Switzerland, is a legal expert and a contributor-at-large for LAS magazine.

See other articles by Samuel Klaus.

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