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The Great Pyramid of Jura

The Jura could soon be getting its own pyramid (Herzog & de Meuron) Herzog & De Meuron

The Swiss Jura region is to get its own pyramid – a cultural centre designed by Swiss star architects Jacques Herzog & Pierre de Meuron.

This content was published on May 18, 2006 - 09:43

For the duo, already famous for their modernist buildings such as the Tate Modern in London or the Olympics stadium in Beijing, it is their first project in western Switzerland.

The plan is to build the huge triangular auditorium in the middle of the northwestern Jura countryside, near the village of Courgenay.

It will hold concerts – there will be 700 seats in the hall - as well as art exhibitions. The expected cost of the project is around SFr20 million ($16.6 million).

Commenting on why he had chosen such an ambitious and unusual project, de Meuron said that he and Herzog liked a challenge.

"We like to bring in our work and our passion to things that are unique and we don't want to repeat ourselves," de Meuron told swissinfo at a recent news conference to unveil the plans.

"We sometimes also have a small and a big project and one of our most important and prestigious projects right now is the Hamburg Philharmonic building and we see the Hamburg project as the bigger, older brother of Courgenay."

Personal reasons

But there are also personal reasons for getting involved, as the Basel-based pair are also paying tribute to their friend, the artist Rémy Zaugg, who died last year and whose dream it was to have an auditorium in the Jura.

There is currently nowhere to hold big cultural events in the region, explained Georges Zaugg, Rémy's brother and president of the foundation supporting the auditorium.

For his part, de Meuron said that he hoped that, in addition to boosting the cultural life in the Jura, the building would also be appreciated nationally.

"It's not just architecture to do a beautiful building, architecture has a cultural dimension," explained de Meuron.

"With this project a statement can be made on what Switzerland is, what the French-speaking part of Switzerland is and above all, what the Jura is."

The organisers are hoping that the cultural centre will attract visitors from across Switzerland, as well from neighbouring France and Germany.

Boost

They are also counting on the project giving a much-needed economic lift to the Jura region, which is among Switzerland's poorest.

De Meuron said that this had already happened to the Southwark area in London, the site of one of the architect's greatest triumphs, the Tate Modern.

"With a cultural project you can define a space, site or region," he told swissinfo.

"Southwark, which was not accessible before, has now got on the map and now many people, about five million, go there."

Built on top of a hill near Courgenay, the Jura auditorium will be triangular on the outside, while the inside is made up of hexagons with rounded edges, which jut out of the walls.

The whole effect is rather like a knobbly triangular spaceship or huge futuristic pyramid.

The hexagons have been designed to achieve the best acoustic conditions for the hall, which is shaped like an amphitheatre, said de Meuron,

A window will offer views over the Jura countryside, "a rural architecture" to allow the audience to enjoy both the music and the natural surroundings, he added.

However, the ambitious project is still in its early stages, with the foundation needing to attract funding if it is to reach its completion date of 2009.

swissinfo, Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Major Herzog & de Meuron projects:
Tate Modern in London (2000)
St Jacob's stadium in Basel (2001-2)
Schaulager (an art storage & exhibition space) in Basel (2003)
Allianz Arena, a new soccer stadium for Munich (2005) opening game venue for football World Championship 2006
National Stadium for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing
Hamburg Philharmonic (for 2009)

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In brief

The northwestern Jura region is near the border with France.

The canton of Jura was established in 1979 as Switzerland 26th canton, following many years of bitter debate and protest. Originally part of canton Bern, the Jura region's mainly French-speaking Catholics wanted independence from the German-speaking Protestants of Bern.

It is known for its beautiful countryside and its watchmaking industry. But the area is one of the poorer Swiss cantons.

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