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HERZOG & DE MEURON – Olympic Size Talent

Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron are Swiss architects born just three weeks apart in 1950 and perhaps best known for their creation of the Beijing National Stadium, host to the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China.
Herzog and de Meuron met while attending the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich. The two co-founded the architectural firm of Herzog and de Meuron in 1978, located in Basel, Switzerland. The two are known primarily for a modernist, minimalist style, and for their conversion of the giant Bankside Power Station in London to the new home of the Tate Museum of Modern Art.

The partners were jointly awarded one of architecture’s top prizes in 2001, the Pritzker prize. The chairman of the prize committee commented, “One is hard put to think of any architects in history that have addressed the integument of architecture with greater imagination and virtuosity.”
The duo is well known for unusual exterior treatments for their projects, including silk-screening the glass on one project. In 2006, the New York Times Magazine named them one of the most respected architectural firms in the world.

The early works of the Herzog and de Meuron architectural firm were considered to be some of the best reflections of modern minimalism in the world. Ada Louise Huxtable, an architecture critic and juror for the Pritzker prize, said, “They refine the traditions of modernism to elemental simplicity, while transforming materials and surfaces through the exploration of new treatments and techniques.”

Both partners in Herzog and de Meuron are visiting professors of architecture at Harvard University and teach at the Swiss Federal Institute of technology as well. Their design was chosen from among 13 finalists for completion of the Beijing Olympic Stadium. The structure, known around the world as the Bird’s Nest, is the world’s largest steel structure.

The design was inspired by ancient Chinese pottery and was originally created to hide the mechanisms for the retractable roof. In the end, the retractable roof was scratched from the project. Herzog and de Meuron began work on the project in 2003, and the project was completed in December 2007. The architects work with a variety of artists, usually a different one for each project, but have expressed continuing inspiration Joseph Beuys. Over the course of their careers, Herzog and de Meuron have progressed from simplicity to more intricate geometric designs based on historic and artistic models.
Since its inception, Herzog and de Meuron have added five additional partners to the architectural firm. Currently, it employs an additional 12 associates and 220 architects in its five branch offices across the world. The firm has branch offices in London, Munich, San Francisco, Barcelona and Beijing.

Current projects include designing a revitalization project in Santa Cruz to link the city with the Marina in Santa Cruz de Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands. They are also working on the Philharmonic Hall in Hamburg, Germany.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, in addition to designing many museums, including both the Tate and the Miami Museum of Art, the work of the firm has been included in many exhibits inside the museums as well.
Herzog and de Meuron have been committed to giving back to the field of architecture. Both have been visiting instructors at their alma mater in Switzerland since 1999, and in 2002, co-founded the ETH Studio Basil-Contemporary City Institute. While it seems clear that the minimalist architectural approach of the firm has evolved during its 30 year lifespan, the two principals are still clearly influenced by the art around. Though the Bird’s Nest featured some of the geometrical design that is common in Herzog and de Meuron on properties, it was the influence of the Chinese pottery that most impacted the look of the Stadium. Chinese officials wanted the building, though being constructed by the Swiss, to look uniquely Chinese.