Herzog and de Meuron win gold for architecture

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Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have been awarded the Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba) in London.

This content was published on February 21, 2007 - 11:55

The prize, presented on Wednesday, is in recognition of wide-ranging work that includes the British capital's Tate Modern – an art gallery in a former power station on the River Thames.

Riba President Jack Pringle commended them for their courage, their extraordinary creativity and the outstanding quality of their work.

"Herzog and de Meuron are among the very best architects that have ever been," he told swissinfo.

"They approach each problem afresh," he added. "They look at the fundamentals of the building that they have to design, its context, its needs and purpose. And they come up with often a brilliant solution for every new building."

Indivisible

Pringle is convinced that Herzog and de Meuron's success is also due partly to the their attachment to Basel where the main office is, their close business partnership as well as the long-standing personal friendship which goes back to childhood.

"They are a real partnership. Herzog and de Meuron are indivisible."

Pringle said they are among the few architects whose projects don't look like one another, while the Swissness of their work is revealed by their combination of strong intellectual, artistic and technical fundamentals - a trademark of Swiss architecture in general.

But Pringle feels their creativity is not linked to their nationality.

"They remind me of the ultimate super students. They have that freshness and appetite to attack new projects from a radical base," he said.

Herzog and de Meuron have had little impact on British architecture, but they are admired and generate a certain fascination according to Pringle.

No typical style

He is full of praise for the building housing the Prada store in Tokyo. "It's one of the most fabulous, seamless constructions. The building itself is Haute Couture."

He says the concept for the Allianz Arena, the football stadium in Munich, is another landmark construction, with its changing colours - red, blue and white - to go with the home teams playing at alternating weekends. "It seems such an obvious idea, but Herzog and de Meuron put it forward."

Pringle also highlights the landmark project for the national stadium in Beijing, the main venue for the 2008 Summer Olympics.

"It will undoubtedly go down as one of the great stadiums in history. It's a stadium that is going to be used to announce the birth of a world superpower. That's what the Beijing Olympics are for."

London's Laban Dance Centre stands out for him – a building for which the Swiss duo received the Sterling Prize in 2003.

"It's a beautiful, very feminine building. It has a sort of diaphanous polycarbonate cladding to it that goes in front of coloured aluminium. It's almost like a negligee."

This is one of two Herzog and de Meuron buildings in the British capital that couldn't be more different according to the Riba president.

"There is on one hand the conversion of a huge industrial building [the Tate Modern] into a big robust powerful chunky art gallery with its massive Turbine Hall space. On the other there is this small new building which is very delicate for ballet."

Tate Modern 2

Pringle finds the contrasts very appealing in Herzog and de Meuron buildings, such as the extension of the Tate Modern due to be completed by 2012. It will be 11 storeys high, have a gigantic glass cupola and cost about SFr500 million ($404 million).

"The Tate Modern has been a success from the start. It has created an insatiable appetite amongst Londoners and visitors to London in gallery going. There is a big need to exhibit new artists and collections," said Pringle.

swissinfo, Gaby Ochsenbein in London

In brief

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are the only Swiss, besides Le Corbusier (Charles-Edouard Jeanneret) in 1953, to be given the Royal Gold Medal.

The prize is given in recognition of a lifetime's work. It is awarded annually by the Queen since 1848 to a person or group of people whose influence on architecture has had a major international effect.

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Herzog & de Meuron projects

Tate Modern Extension, London (2005-2012)
Roche building Basel (2006-2011)
Miami Art Museum (2006-2010)
Main stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing (2007)
Allianz Arena football stadium, Munich (2005)
De Young Musuem, San Francisco (2005)
Prada store Tokyo (2003)
Laban Dance Centre, London (2003)
St Jakob stadium, Basel (2001)
Tate Modern Gallery, London (2000)

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Herzog & de Meuron

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are best known for designing the original Tate Modern.

They won the Pritzker Architectural Prize in 2001, which is considered the profession's Nobel Prize, as well as the Sterling Prize (2003) and the Royal Gold Medal (2007).

Their partnership, Herzog & de Meuron, was founded in Basel in 1978. It employs nearly 200 architects who are currently working on 40 projects worldwide. There are also offices in London, Munich, San Francisco, Tokyo and Beijing.

Born in Basel in 1950, Herzog and de Meuron have known each other since their childhood.

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