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Swiss architects scoop Olympic gold

The new stadium will host the opening and closing ceremonies Keystone

Swiss star architects Herzog and de Meuron have won a contract to build the Olympic stadium for the 2008 Games in Beijing.

The stadium, which resembles a giant bird’s nest, will be the main venue for the Summer Games and is set to become a new landmark in the Chinese capital.

The design by the Basel-based duo, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, was chosen by an international jury and by visitors to an exhibition of projects for the stadium.

Out of 6,000 visitors, 3,506 voted for the Swiss design, which was up against stiff competition from Chinese and Japanese architects.

“We knew that our design was extraordinary, but it’s always a lottery,” Harry Gugger, the partner in charge of the stadium project, told swissinfo.

“For an architect, winning [this competition] is like [qualifying] for the Olympic Games – it’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

Bird’s nest

The design is inspired by the interwoven twigs of a bird’s nest and consists of transparent, plastic shells, through which the stadium lights will shine.

The Swiss architects will work together with Chinese experts to build the arena, which will seat 100,000 spectators.

“I think we sort of reinvented stadium architecture,” said Gugger. “You can’t change the basic form of a stadium… but you can add a new architectural quality.”

Herzog and de Meuron have already won a string of important contracts for major venues, notably St Jakob’s Park stadium, home of Swiss football team, FC Basel.

Chinese contracts

Herzog and de Meuron’s win comes months after another Basel-based practice, Burckhardt + Partner, won a contract for a large sports complex for the 2008 Olympics.

And the Ticino-based architect, Mario Botta, recently designed the Museum of Modern Art in Beijing.

Gugger said the clutch of contracts scooped by Swiss architects in China was a sign of Switzerland’s prominence in the field of international architecture.

“There’s a huge market in China, which is now open to international architects,” explained Gugger. “Swiss architecture ranks high internationally and it’s only natural that they are getting their share.”

swissinfo, Vanessa Mock and Joanne Shields

Herzog and de Meuron’s winning designs include the Tate Modern Gallery in London, for which they won the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize.
They also won the contract for the new football stadium in Munich, one of the venues for the 2006 World Cup.
The two architects, both born in Basel in 1950, founded their architectural practice in 1978.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR