Architects Herzog & de Meuron, the Design Duo Behind Tate Modern and Scores of Other Museums, Are Themselves the Subject of a New Exhibition

Celebrated for their iconic structures such as London’s Tate Modern, Beijing’s National Stadium (also known as the Bird’s Nest), Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, and San Francisco’s De Young Museum, the duo of Herzog & de Meuron are comfortably ensconced at the vanguard of contemporary design. The Swiss architects, who were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2001, have pushed forward the architectural avant-garde through deconstructivist designs and innovative use of materials and geometries.

Founded by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron in Basel over 40 years ago, the architectural practice is now a sprawling international enterprise with five senior partners and over 600 employees working on (mostly, but not exclusively) large-scale projects—museums, hospitals, skyscrapers, and arenas—in nearly every corner of the globe. 

Herzog & de Meuron, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg. Photo © Iwan Baan. Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts.

Now, the Royal Academy of Arts in London will house an exhibition showcasing their most ambitious projects. Launching July 14, and in close collaboration with the architects, the exhibition unfolds in three distinct galleries. The first gallery brings a large portion of their “Kabinett”—an open storage and research area—from Basel to London. Around 400 objects, ranging from scale models to photographs and even augmented reality experiences, will be displayed on wood shelves for visitors to peruse.

Herzog & de Meuron, extension of the Stadtcasino Basel. Photo © Ruedi Walti. Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts.

Research material from the duo’s better known projects are highlighted in this first gallery. For Tate Modern, Herzog & de Meuron repurposed the Bankside Power Station into a kind of vertical city. Their Elbphilharmonie project in Hamburg was informed by three archetypal spaces: the ancient Greek amphitheater, a sports arena, and a modern festival tent. The National Stadium in Beijing—conceived as a large public art sculpture—marked their first collaboration with artist Ai Weiwei, while the Lincoln Road project saw the architects reinvent an ordinary parking garage in Miami as open-air retail spaces and residences.

The second gallery space assumes the form of a screening room. A central screen presents an edit of a new film, Rehab, created by filmmakers Bêka & Lemoine. It offers an intimate look at the daily life of their groundbreaking REHAB Clinic for Neurorehabilitation and Paraplegiology in Basel from the perspective of patients undergoing treatment, charting patients’ interactions with the structure at various stages of recovery.

Herzog & de Meuron, REHAB Basel. Photo © Katalin Deér. Courtesy of Royal Academy of Arts.

The third and final space focuses on a real project currently in development, the Universitäts-Kinderspital Zürich (University Children’s Hospital in Zurich), which came out of a competition in 2012 to redefine hospital architecture and healing spaces. The main feature of this room is an augmented reality mock-up of a patient’s room, rendered at full scale, delivering a near-tangible recreation of a humanized hospital environment. Visitors can virtually step inside a hospital room and observe 360-degree views of the streets, gardens, and public spaces ahead of the hospital’s completion in 2024.

“Herzog & de Meuron” is on view at the Royal Academy of Arts, 6 Burlington Gardens, London, W1S 3ET, from July 14 to October 15, 2023.

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