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Swiss architects reveal the secrets of their success

Herzog & de Meuron's project No 226: the Olympic Stadium in Beijing. Herzog & de Meuron

A unique exhibition of the architecture of Basel-based Herzog & de Meuron opens this weekend in Basel.

This content was published on May 6, 2004 - 23:50

The duo designed the building in which the show is housed - the Schaulager warehouse - as well as the models on display.

“It does not happen very often that architects stage their exhibition in a building that they actually designed,” said Theodora Vischer, the director of the Schaulager building.

“No. 250 - an Exhibition" is the latest display of the work of the architectural firm owned by Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron.

“These are the mute and lifeless results of an intellectual and group dynamic process, which we worked on over many years,” said Jacques Herzog.

Warehouse

“No. 250 - an Exhibition” is the second such exhibition in the Schaulager, which opened its doors in 2003.

The building normally serves as a warehouse for works of the Emanuel Hoffman Foundation.

Herzog said the workload and the amount of material and staff needed to organise the exhibition could make it one of the biggest architectural shows ever.

“All projects in my office are numbered and this exhibition is number 250 – hence the title,” he said.

The idea for the show was born during the “Archaeology of the Mind” exhibition at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal last year.

Too small

But according to Vischer, that show would have been too small for the building, and she said Herzog did not want to copy the Canadian exhibition.

“He wanted to focus less on the topic and more on the architecture,” she said.

The variety of different shapes, colours and materials are enthralling and Vischer said its fascination for the visitor was similar to a child’s fascination for Lego.

“The exhibition wants to show the unique work of the architectural office and emphasise that the architects like experimenting and do not follow certain patterns,” said Vischer.

Olympic stadium

Models such as that of the Olympic stadium in Beijing are on display, along with other models for projects which have never been realised.

Visitors also get a glimpse of a genuine piece of furniture from the exclusive building of the Prada headquarters in the Italian city of Florence.

There is no catalogue about the exhibition, though - a so-called “Vademecum” brochure provides the visitor with an overview of the art on display.

“Our work has changed significantly over the past 25 years, which is normal really, as the world has also changed,” said Herzog.

In the Vademecum, Herzog talks about his scepticism when it comes to virtual models done by a computer.

“If you see a virtual image from the very beginning, you will never know what it will really look like,” he said.

“Architecture that focuses on visuals is dead architecture, but this does not mean that we are not open to digital methods.”

The exhibition runs until September 12.

swissinfo, Ariane Gigon Bormann in Basel

Key facts

Jaques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron were both born in Basel in 1950.
The two friends set up their architectural firm in 1978.
The architects now employ 200 people.
Herzog and de Meuron’s designs include the Tate Modern Gallery in London, for which they won the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize, the St Jakob Park football stadium in Basel and the Prada building in Tokyo.

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