«Modern Architecture: The Basel Example» - Uma conversa com Herzog & De Meuron


© El Croquis, VitraHaus, Rhein, Alemanha

Esta conversa entre Jean-François Chevrier e a dupla de arquitectos Herzon & De Meuron, foi publicada no número 152/153 da revista espanhola El Croquis, dedicada ao trabalho realizado entre 2005-2010.

Jacques, you have often said that architecture is "an instrument of perception". I have in mind an anecdote that relates to painting. Francis Wey tells us that Courbet spent the summer of 1849 at his home in Louveciennes (in the country near Paris). One day, Courbet was painting a landscape outdoors, and in the far distance he could see "a kind of greyish block" he was unable to identify, but Francis Wey was able to see on the canvas that it was a stack of bundled firewood. Standing back a little from the canvas, Courbet then saw it himself. Cézanne was very fond of this story. He said to Joachim Gasquet one day: "Remember Courbet and the firewood story. He was laying down just the right tones on the canvas without knowing that it was a pile of wood. He asked what was being pictured there. They went and looked. And it was bundles of firewood". Cézanne changes the story (unless Gasquet has reported his words incorrectly), since in his version the firewood was not recognisable as such on the canvas. But in any event, the lesson is clear: it is possible to paint what you see without needing to name it. When the pictorial instrument replaces the words, perception is revealed as an experience prior to verbal identification of the object.

JH: We first set out with an attitude that was extremely straightforward, almost naive. Architecture, like art, is an affirmation. But we were looking for a way to get closer, cautiously, without blinding perception with the work or the built object. Architecture can be likened to art in the way that it affirms while at the same time remaining neutral, leaving room for the possibility of seeing things another way, from another perspective. That is what has always fascinated us in nature. Architecture can be open to a diversity of ways of seeing, can provide the option of seeing it from different angles, if it responds to the complexity of nature. 
You need extraordinary self-assurance to be an architect, to cause something to exist in the world, to add something to what already exists. Architectural objects are often very large, and destined to last. And for that, you need to be very affirmative. It is not an affirmation in words, but it is nevertheless an affirmation.

JH: Yes, there is a paradox here. Architecture is an affirmation, it says "yes" to the world. You say "yes" to a client. At the same time, coming from a small country, Switzerland, which does not possess as strong a national tradition in architecture as France does, for example, you have no idea of what to do. You do things, you try to find work, but you are also working in a vacuum. Every architect is familiar with this situation, because it stems from an absence of tradition. You work for somebody, for a client, for a certain concept, but you also work against what has been done before, to find other ways forward. Since the nineteenth century, architects have been obliged to invent the world in which they place their buildings; they have been equipping themselves with a vocabulary. We wanted to avoid style: the idea of perception is more open. The early 1970s marked the end of architectural modernism. In a talk at the Basel Kunsthalle in 1981 I spoke of the warm colours that replaced, at the beginning of the 1970s, the monotonous, cold grey of the 1960s.1 Grey was the classic colour of modernism in the style of Mies van der Rohe. Modernism had arrived at a sort of classical maturity expressed as a standard; the buildings were the same more or less everywhere. During the 1970s, the formal characteristics remained virtually unchanged, but the grey was replaced by more frivolous colours, gold or bronze for the aluminium used in buildings, beige or brown for the managers' suits, orange, olive. This heralded post-modernism. As for us, we admired this rather cold modernism but we were coming onto the scene a generation too late and the trend was impossible to reverse.