Wachtel On The Arts - Jacques Herzog

​From sports stadiums, to art galleries to concert halls, Swiss "star architects" Jacques Herzog and his partner, Pierre de Meuron, design buildings that attract people -- and make them want to stay there. From his home base in Basel, Jacques Herzog talks to Eleanor Wachtel about how architecture reflects a city -- and also changes it.
Architect Jacques Herzog (Sergi Alexander/Getty Images)

​From sports stadiums, to art galleries to concert halls, Swiss "star architects" Jacques Herzog and his partner, Pierre de Meuron, design buildings that attract people -- and make them want to stay there. From his home base in Basel, Jacques Herzog talks to Eleanor Wachtel about how architecture reflects a city -- and also changes it.

Beijing's iconic Olympic stadium, nicknamed the Bird's Nest. London's Tate Modern -- a former power station transformed into one of the world's largest -- and most visited -- art museums. An elegant, one-of-a kind parking garage in Miami that's a tourist destination in its own right. A stunning glass concert hall built atop an eight-storey, brick, 1960s coffee warehouse near Hamburg's harbour.

Unusual, surprising buildings designed by Herzog & de Meuron -- each completely different. The award-winning firm deliberately has no signature style. From the very beginning, Jacques Herzog and his partner Pierre de Meuron set out to create something new with every project.

Beyond function, beyond aesthetics, Herzog is interested in the psychological, social and even political aspects of architecture. In how we respond to and utilize spaces. In our emotional response to different materials. These and other considerations inform his approach to design -- a painstaking process of inquiry that leads, he says, to unexpected solutions. And to buildings -- both public and private -- that have made Herzog & de Meuron one of the world's most innovative firms.

Jacques Herzog was born in Basel, Switzerland in 1950.  So was his partner Pierre de Meuron;  in fact, they've been friends since early childhood. The city's strong cultural heritage has been a continuing source of inspiration. They opened their firm there in 1978, embracing what they describe as a "humanitarian" approach to architecture.   

Herzog & de Meuron have designed a lot of distinctive buildings not only in Switzerland but elsewhere in Europe, as well as North America and Asia.  One focus is public art galleries, such as the copper-clad de Young Museum in San Francisco, the Perez Art Museum in Miami with its hanging garden, and the Walker Art Center expansion in Minneapolis. Just last week, they opened a striking expansion to London's Tate Modern, whose cathedral-like Turbine Hall has been so popular.

Herzog & de Meuron were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2001, the Nobel of architecture. They currently have projects all over the world.  Here in Canada, their design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery features stacked wooden boxes, inspired by the city's geography and character.

Some distinctive designs by Herzog & de Meuron ​

Herzog & de Meuron's design for the new Vancouver Art Gallery (Vancouver Art Gallery)

The new Tate Modern extension in London. (Stefan Wermuth/Reuters)

The Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, Germany. (Eleanor Wachtel/CBC)

A view of the National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, with colourful lights is seen at the Olympic Green in Beijing July 29, 2008. (REUTERS/Claro Cortes IV )


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