Herzog and de Meuron Pritzker Prize
Perhaps their highest profile project is the recently opened Tate Gallery of Modern Art, converted from a large power plant on the Thames River in London. The architects say it was "...exciting for us to deal with existing structures because the attendant constraints demand a very different kind of creative energy.
"In the future," they continue, "this will be an increasingly important issue in European cities. You cannot always start from scratch. We think this is the challenge of the Tate Modern as a hybrid of tradition, Art Deco, and super modernism: it is a contemporary building, a building for everybody, a building of the 21st century.
"And when you don't start from scratch, you need specific architectural strategies that are not primarily motivated by taste or stylistic preferences. Our strategy was to accept the physical power of the massive mountain-like brick building and to even enhance it rather than breaking it or trying to diminish it.
"This is a kind of Aikido strategy where you use your enemy's energy for your own purposes. Instead of fighting it, you take all the energy and shape it in unexpected and new ways."
The Rudin House
One of the Herzog & de Meuron houses referred to in the jury citation is the 1997 Rudin House in Leymen, France. The architects describe its shape as a "heavy and archetypal volume, that seems to be suspended above the gentle slope, demonstrating its desire to be perceived as an abstract object."
The roof without overhangs, the tall chimney, and the large windows remind one of child's drawing. Rainwater runs down the simple building as it would run down a boulder. The unfinished concrete walls emphasize the weight of the building, but a projecting platform supports the floating base of the house.
Reduced to their minimum expression, the gutters are replaced by a metal drip strip that guides the rainwater to the edges of the west facade, at the foot of which is a pond. Fruit trees and meadows underline the agricultural character of the garden that is barely distinguishable from the surrounding landscape.
One of the best known of Herzog & de Meuron's projects in the United States is the Dominus Winery in the Napa Valley of California. The linear building is 330 feet (100 meters) long, 82 feet (25 meters) wide, and 30 feet (9 meters) high to house three functional units of the winery.
In front of the facades the architects placed gabions, which are wire containers filled with stones, commonly used in river engineering. These form a thermal mass that moderates the extremes in temperature fluctuations.
Herzog explains: "We chose a local basalt that ranges in color from dark green to black and blends beautifully with the landscape. The gabions are filled more or less densely as needed so that parts of the walls are impenetrable while others allow the passage of some light — natural light coming into the rooms in the daytime, and artificial light going out at night.
"You could describe our use of gabions as a kind of stone wickerwork with varying degrees of transparency, more like skin than traditional masonry."
Ricola Marketing Building
Transparency is even more in play in the Ricola Marketing Building in Laufen, Switzerland, built in 1998. Surrounded by gardens, this is an environment for a mediating inside and outside.
Instead of a multistory volume that would dominate the landscape, the architects chose a low polygonal installation that fits into Ricola's garden area like a pavilion.
They say: "We wanted an architecture in which outer form and geometry did not immediately reveal themselves. One which, thanks to its turned-back facades, dissolves into single pieces. Each piece has the distinct characteristic of either surrounding, reflecting, or projecting far into the building's interior a special site in the garden."
Inside, the building is planned as a single, cohesive, open space that offers a mostly transparent office landscape on two floors. The large staircase in the middle of the building is simultaneously a connecting element, meeting place, and auditorium.
The building is equipped with glass facades throughout, with a few wall-height sliding doors. Thus, spatial delineation is not static and may be changed according to need. Curtains mounted on three parallel runners allow users a variety in color, transparency, and view.
Herzog said, "We think, and of course we hope that our work at least tries to appeal to life, and to liveliness; it appeals to the five senses. There are critics who look at our work and only see tasteful facades and Cartesian form and call it conservative.
"These are stale judgments. They think in conservative categories, such as: square is boring, or solidity is old fashioned. With such a way of thinking you cannot have access to our architecture, which avoids entertainment and spectacular gestures.
"At the limit, we believe that architecture should merge more with life, to merge the artificial and natural, the mechanical and biological."
In the Jury's Words
According to Pritzker Juror Carlos Jimenez, "One of the most compelling aspects of work by Herzog and de Meuron is its capacity to astonish. They are able to transform what might otherwise be an ordinary shape, condition or material, into something truly extraordinary.
"Their relentless pursuit and investigation into the nature of architecture results in works charged by memory and invention, reminding us of the familiarity of the new."
The Pritzker jury that selected Herzog and de Meuron as the 2001 Laureates consists of its founding chairman, J. Carter Brown, director emeritus of the National Gallery of Art, and chairman of the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts; Giovanni Agnelli, chairman emeritus of Fiat from Torino, Italy; Ada Louise Huxtable, author and architectural critic of New York; Carlos Jimenez, professor at Rice University School of Architecture, and principal, Carlos Jimenez Studio in Houston, Texas; Jorge Silvetti, chairman of the department of architecture, Harvard University Graduate School of Design; and Lord Rothschild, former chairman of the National Heritage Memorial Fund of Great Britain and formerly the chairman of that country's National Gallery of Art.
The Pritzker Prize will be awarded at a ceremony on May 7, 2001 at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia.