Master Builder Jacques Hertzog
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RAY SUAREZ: The Pritzker Prize, now in its 22nd year, is architecture’s most prestigious honor. Pritzker laureates, who have included Jeoh Ming Pei and Philip Johnson, are chosen from the ranks of living architects worldwide, and receive $100,000 from the Hyatt Foundation. This year’s winners are a team, Jacques Herzog and Pierre Du Meuron, the first Swiss recipients of the prize.
Childhood friends, they formed a partnership in 1978 and have designed buildings in eight countries — a private art collection in Munich, a shopping and office building in Tokyo, a house in France, an apartment building and other structures in their hometown of Basil, Switzerland. Their highest profile project to date is the new Tate Modern museum in London, built on the Thames River out of a converted power plant, and completed last year. In the United States, the pair has designed the Dominus winery in California’s Napa Valley, and they have several projects under way, including the new De Young Museum in San Francisco, which is scheduled for completion in 2004. One of the winners, Jacques Herzog, joins us now.
Good to have you with us. Maybe for people who are just hearing about the Pritzker Prize for the first time, you can tell us as an architect whether this is a life changing event?
JACQUES HERZOG, Pritzker Architecture Prize: It’s a wonderful situation to hear you get the prize this year, and we sort of knew we were on the list — and for two or three years, and we didn’t know when or if we were selected. And once we heard this, it was really a wonderful thing. I think for everybody, for every architect this is something you can only dream of.
RAY SUAREZ: It puts you in company with some of the greatest architects of the 20th century.
JACQUES HERZOG: Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. And… But we never thought of it this way. It’s just something that somehow shows towards the outside that things have been well received by clients, by critics, by many different people. And it’s great to get such a prize in America, in a country where we always wanted to do work and we always wanted to do things that we could not do in Europe in terms of scale, in terms of landscape, et cetera, et cetera. So in many ways it’s a wonderful situation.
RAY SUAREZ: During the time just following the announcement of the Pritzker Prize, several critics noted that it’s difficult to look at a building in your range of work and say, “oh, yes, that’s a Herzog and De Meuron.” Do you want it that way?
JACQUES HERZOG: Not really. I mean, I don’t think you can plan such things. It’s more that we are two people and our work is based more on dialogue and concept rather than personal individual gesture. And that’s one reason why it is so. And secondly, we also wanted to have the freedom to go in all different directions possible, depending on the site, depending on the client, depending on the money, depending on, you know, the culture we find. In fact, this gives us a lot of freedom and a lot of… a big field to explore in the future, rather than being fixed with a corporate kind of design.
RAY SUAREZ: Well, if there’s no, let’s say, immediately identifiable style, what’s sort of the conceptual thread that runs through all this work? What do you bring to the blank page that does unite all your work?
JACQUES HERZOG: It’s difficult to say this so in a few sentences, but I guess one thing is, I mentioned the freedom for the design, but also for the freedom of the people to see things in a different way. An ideal object I always found is a tree. You can use a tree as shelter. You can have it as a kind of an image in your garden. You have the smell of a tree. You have the different seasons. You have all these variety of things, and ideally architecture comes close to natural objects, natural phenomena, natural things which have more than one way to see it. So it’s a two-sided experience that we are actually aiming at.
RAY SUAREZ: In a lot of the critiques of your work, a lot of people write about architecture, praise your use of materials. And if we look at something like the Dominus Winery, the idea of bundling stones and making a wall out of them is at once utilitarian and at the same time beautiful and intriguing at the same time. How did you come up with that?
JACQUES HERZOG: That’s the ideal case. I think it’s a good example, namely in this country or in America, I think it was important for us to make such a statement — where a wall can be more than just a painted wallpaper, you know, and a wall which sometimes looks like stone, sometimes looks like glass, sometimes look like – but stone as an object which displays physical qualities and also visual qualities like – kind of a transparency. At the same time it releases the heat that it captures during the day, so something that has been done thousands of years ago but has been lost, especially here in this country — where energy was very cheap for many, many decades, unlike Europe, for instance, and which has somehow brought architects in a situation where walls were reduced to just visual, visual things.
RAY SUAREZ: And the Tate, which has received so much attention, you’re really being given a great deal of credit for reimagining a building that already existed. How is that different from doing a project that’s yours from the ground up?
JACQUES HERZOG: Very different. And it took us a while find a way to deal with this big, brick monster as it came on us across. But then we discovered it has potential that a new building wouldn’t have, like the big scale, the big spaces one couldn’t afford to build from scratch. So we tried to take all that and use it and don’t… Not work against that, but take that and add new things in a way that the outcome is a kind of ambiguous and intriguing mix of very contemporary — almost traditional.
RAY SUAREZ: I notice again and again you’ve said “we.” So often we perceive architecture as kind of a heroic solo act. How do you manage creative decisions with a close collaborator, like a man you’ve known most of your life?
JACQUES HERZOG: That’s exactly the reason. I think if you’ve known each other for so many years, either it works really well, it’s almost part of yourself, or then you can’t do it. And in our case, without knowing that – of the years we have been developing talents, we have been enhancing some of our talents and maybe neglecting others, so we work together almost like a computer that you put together to one single thing. And I think it has brought us a lot of advantages, rather than just working as a single author kind of thing. And it also enables us to do other collaborations with artists. That’s something we’ve always done over the years, and more recently also with a few architects of our time.
RAY SUAREZ: Jacques Herzog, thanks for being with us.
JACQUES HERZOG: Thank you very much.