Two Swiss Architects Share the 2001 Pritzker Architecture Prize
Los Angeles, CA—Two architects were chosen to share the 2001 Pritzker Architecture Prize, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron of Basel, Switzerland. The two men, both born in Basel in 1950, have nearly parallel careers, attending the same schools and forming a partnership architectural firm, Herzog & de Meuron in 1978. Perhaps their highest profile project was attained with the completion last year of the conversion of the giant Bankside power plant on the Thames River in London to a new Gallery of Modern Art for the Tate Museum. It has been widely praised by their peers and the media.
In the United States, they have completed a winery in the Napa Valley of California that utilizes a mortarless wall of stones encased in wire mesh, and are currently building the Kramlich Residence and Media Collection in that same region. They have three other projects in work in the United States—the headquarters of Prada in New York, the New de Young Museum in San Francisco which is scheduled for completion in 2004, and the Extension for the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, scheduled for completion in 2005.
They have projects in England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Japan, and of course, in their native Switzerland. There they have built residences, several apartment buildings, libraries, schools, a sports complex, a photographic studio, museums, hotels, railway utility buildings as well as office and factory buildings.
Among their completed buildings, the Ricola cough lozenge factory and storage building in Mulhouse, France stands out for its unique printed translucent walls that provide the work areas with a pleasant filtered light. A railway utility building in Basel, Switzerland called Signal Box has an exterior cladding of copper strips that are twisted at certain places to admit daylight. A library for the Technical University in Eberswalde, Germany has 17 horizontal bands of iconographic images silk screen printed on glass and on concrete. An apartment building on Schützenmattstrasse in Basel has a fully glazed street facade that is covered by a moveable curtain of perforated latticework. It is impossible to list here all of their noteworthy building projects.
While these unusual construction solutions are certainly not the only reason for Herzog and de Meuron being selected as the 2001 Laureates, Pritzker Prize jury chairman, J. Carter Brown, commented, “One is hard put to think of any architects in history that have addressed the integument of architecture with greater imagination and virtuosity”
In announcing the laureates for 2001, Thomas J. Pritzker, president of The Hyatt Foundation, spoke of the jury’s choice, saying, “Only once before in the history of the prize has the jury seen fit to select two architects in the same year to share the award. That was in 1988. The decision was made then that since it was the tenth anniversary of the prize, we would celebrate two laureates. In this case, the jury felt that these two architects work so closely together that each one complements the abilities and talents of the other. Their work is the result of a long term true collaboration making it impossible to honor one without the other.”
The formal presentation of what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honor was made at a ceremony on May 7, 2001 at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia. At that time, Herzog and de Meuron were presented with a $100,000 grant and each received a bronze medallion. They are the first Swiss to become Pritzker Laureates, and the 24th and 25th honorees since the prize was established in 1979. The only other year that the jury selected two architects to share the prize was 1988 when the late Gordon Bunshaft of the United States and Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil were chosen. The selection of Herzog and de Meuron continues what has become a nine-year trend of laureates from the international community. In fact, architects from other countries chosen for the prize, now far outnumber the U.S. recipients, eighteen to seven.
Bill Lacy, who is an architect and president of the State University of New York at Purchase, spoke as the executive director of the Pritzker Prize, quoting from the jury citation which states, “The architecture of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron combines the artistry of an age-old profession with the fresh approach of a new century’s technical capabilities. Both architects’ roots in European tradition are combined with current technology in extraordinarily inventive architectural solutions to their clients’ needs.”
Ada Louise Huxtable, architecture critic and member of the juror, commented further about Herzog and de Meuron, “They refine the traditions of modernism to elemental simplicity, while transforming materials and surfaces through the exploration of new treatments and techniques.”
Another juror, Carlos Jimenez from Houston who is professor of architecture at Rice University, said, “One of the most compelling aspects of work by Herzog and de Meuron is their capacity to astonish.”
And from juror Jorge Silvetti, who chairs the Department of Architecture, Graduate School of Design at Harvard University, “…all of their work maintains throughout, the stable qualities that have always been associated with the best Swiss architecture: conceptual precision, formal clarity, economy of means and pristine detailing and craftsmanship.”
Herzog & de Meuron Architekten is a Swiss architecture firm, founded and headquartered in Basel, Switzerland in 1978. The careers of founders and senior partners Jacques Herzog (born 1950), and Pierre de Meuron (born 1950), closely paralleled one another, with both attending the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich. They are perhaps best known for their conversion of the giant Bankside Power Station in London to the new home of the Tate Museum of Modern Art (2000). Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have been visiting professors at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design since 1994 and professors at ETH Zürich since 1999.
Herzog & de Meuron received international attention very early in their career with the Blue House in Oberwil, Switzerland (1980); the Stone House in Tavole, Italy (1988); and the Apartment Building along a Party Wall in Basel (1988). The firm’s breakthrough project was the Ricola Storage Building in Laufen, Switzerland (1987). Renown in the United States came with Dominus Winery in Yountville, California (1998). The Goetz Collection, a Gallery for a Private Collection of Modern Art in Munich (1992), stands at the beginning of a series of internationally acclaimed museum buildings such as the Küppersmühle Museum for the Grothe Collection in Duisburg, Germany (1999).
In many projects the architects have worked together with artists, an eminent example of that practice being the collaboration with Rémy Zaugg, Thomas Ruff and with Michael Craig-Martin.
Professionally, the Herzog & de Meuron partnership has grown to become an office with over 120 people worldwide. In addition to their headquarters in Basel, they have offices in London, Munich and San Francisco. Herzog has explained, “We work in teams, but the teams are not permanent. We rearrange them as new projects begin. All of the work results from discussions between Pierre and me, as well as our other partners, Harry Gugger and Christine Binswanger. The work by various teams may involve many different talents to achieve the best results which is a final product called architecture by Herzog & de Meuron.”
The architecture of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron combines the artistry of an age-old profession with the fresh approach of a new century’s technical capabilities. Both architects’ roots in European tradition are combined with current technology in extraordinarily inventive architectural solutions to their clients’ needs that range from a modest switching station for trains to an entirely new approach to the design of a winery.
The catalogue of their work reflects this diversity of interest and accomplishment. Through their houses, municipal and business structures, museums and master planning, they display a sure command of their design talent that has resulted in a distinguished body of completed projects.
The beginnings of most architects’ practices consists by necessity of small projects with budgets to match. It is these early buildings with great constraints that test an architect’s talent for original solutions to often ordinary and utilitarian commissions. In the case of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the railroad signal box was such a project. They transformed a nondescript structure in a railroad yard into a dramatic and artistic work of industrial architecture, captivating both by day and night.
The two architects have created a substantial body of built work in the past twenty years, the largest and most dramatic in size and scale being the conversion of a giant power plant on the Thames into the new Tate Gallery of Modern Art, a widely hailed centerpiece of London’s millennium celebration.
This kind of ingenuity and imagination continues to characterize their work, whether it is a factory building in Basel with silk screened facades or a winery in California with thick medieval walls made of stacked stones that allow air and light patterns to permeate the building, giving wine making a hallowed aura. Students of architecture with keen antennae discovered this duo long before the rest of the world. Both of the principals have been internationally sought after as lecturers at prestigious universities where they have followed the tradition in architecture of passing the experience of one generation on to another.
The Rudin House in France is yet another representation of their teaching extended by example. Here, they set themselves the task of building a small house that would stand for the quintessential distillation of the word “house;” a child’s crayon drawing, irreducible to anything more simple, direct and honest. And they set it on a pedestal to emphasize its iconic qualities.
These two architects, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, with their intensity and passion for using the enduring palette of brick, stone, glass and steel to express new solutions in new forms. The jury is pleased to award the 2001 Pritzker Architecture Prize to them for advancing the art of architecture, a significant contribution to furthering the definition of architecture as one of the premier art forms in this new century and millennium.
Ceremony Acceptance Speech
Dear Mrs. Pritzker and all of the Pritzker family, dear members of the jury, dear friends, ladies and gentlemen, thank you for so many things. Thank you for your ongoing and uncompromising commitment to architecture. Thank you for choosing us for this prize which we were longing for and hoping to get, like only children can wish to get things deep in their hearts. Thank you to our clients and friends, some of whom are here this evening, for their support and their willingness to dialog also in difficult phases of a project.
Thank you to those who have opened us the door at the GSD many years ago. That has proved to be a critical step for us into this country quite some time before we, actually, were given the chance to realize some of our best work here. Thank you to our partners, Harry and Christine, and to all our collaborators who have been working with us for many years with an unbelievable commitment.
In 1978, Pierre and I opened our joint architectural offices, but it was neither a historical decision nor a momentous founding event. During our last semester at the Federal Institute Of Technology, we had already realized that we had a great deal in common. The fact that we struck out on our own was more or less an act of rebellion and desperation. What else were we to do?
The economy was not very rosy and architecture both at home and abroad seemed foreign to us. We had no idea what we wanted, we only knew what we didn’t want. A few semesters with Aldo Rossi who was forty at the time had filled us with enthusiasm.
In his earliest buildings made of poorly processed concrete, we discovered an affinity something that swung to rest between Pasolini and Arte Povera. And we loved his dry dictum “architecture is architecture” because it seems to be so provocatively simple minded and pinpoints something that is still vital to us today: architecture can only survive as architecture in its physical and central diversity and not as a vehicle for an ideology of some kind. It is the materiality of architecture that paradoxically conveys thoughts and ideas. In other words, its immateriality. That’s an old story, but it is more relevant today than ever before: architecture lives and survives because of its beauty, because it seduces, animates and even inspires people, because it is matter and because it can—if only sometimes—transcend matter.
But this anarchist and poetic side of Rossi, which we loved so much as students, was gradually assimilated into the postmodernist Zeitgeist. What remained was an academically rigid ideology of permanence and typology, and a sudden dominance of decorative historical elements of style, a kind of coming-out of the decorative, which had beaten an embarrassed retreat since the rise of Modernism.
In the fine arts which are usually more critical, more radical and ahead of architecture in adopting artistic and social changes of paradigm representatives of the Transavanguardia and the so-called Wild Painting came up with so many new pictures that in spite of or, perhaps, because of this inundation, there was no room left for our own. Nor did we see any latitude of this kind in deconstructivism; although we were fascinated by its chief philosophical exponents, we were bored to tears by its architectural advocates and their explanations. In the early years, we experimented with all kinds of forms and materials trying to subvert their conventional usage as if to squeeze something hidden, something invisible out of them that would breathe life into our architecture. Yes, that was what we wanted: to breathe life into architecture although we could not specifically describe what we meant by that, despite endless attempts to put it into words. There was no philosophy that we felt we could embrace unconditionally although phenomenological questions have always played a salient role, for instance, questions of sensual perception or of signified and signifier.
The artist Rémy Zaugg with whom we have often collaborated over the years relentlessly asks questions that address our concerns as well. Obvious perhaps and simpleminded, but all the more profound—what, where, how, who? Our designs became increasing minimal, radically minimal. Suddenly, the room for action became huge. At the beginning of the eighties, no one used a rectangle as ground plan and section, that is, a box as the basis of design. We wanted architecture without any distinguishable figuration, but with a hesitant non-imitating analogy. We were looking for a hint of memory, of association. We did not want complete reduction or pure abstraction. We were not trying to simplify the world or to reduce it to so- called essentials. There was no religion, no ideology at stake.
We did not want a sect of Minimalists. On the contrary, we were aghast at the ravages caused by so-called Minimalism in architecture, which was linked with morals and perfection and had the imprint of latent Protestant zeal. We in turn began to have more and more doubts about the dominance of the rectangle in our designs.
It had become too confining. Paradoxically, the box, conceivably the simplest and most basic architectural shape had acquired the value of its own like a stylistic device And that was exactly what we always tried so assiduously to avoid. But there may be another entirely different explanation. The reasons for the supposed breaks and changes of style in our work may not only be design-motivated, but also psychological. The supposed objectivity of the modernist formal canon may merely have served to simply the workings of our long-term cooperative venture and the discussion of projects; it may actually have held us together as a team. The fact is that we’ve worked as a duo since our youth and have in recent years involved two other partners, Harry Gugger and Christine Binswanger, who are also here in Monticello today and rightfully so …