The irruption of Herzog & de Meuron onto the architectural scene was powerful for its contrast with the prevailing trends saturated with forms and unnecessary gestures. Often associated with austere and conceptual art movements, their architecture was on the verge of pure construction, not as a will to show off material virtuosity but as an objective intensification of meaning: silkscreens on glass that placed the focus on the skin and not the volume. Fiber cement boards piled up as if the building were a mere accumulation of bits and pieces. Twisting a shingle of copper to introduce tension in the element as well as transparency to let us look through. There was a total absence of conventional elements such as windows, columns, roofs, and doors, which added to the mystery of the objects and the originality of their language.
Their recent projects seem to be a kind of return to their origins: there is that certain selfconfidence, maturity, and freshness of somebody who no longer needs to prove anything to anybody. This is highly appreciated in architects who are a role model to many people: the Parrish Museum in Southampton, NY, the Gym in Brazil, and the Ricola Kräuterzentrum (Herb Center) in Switzerland are simple, to-the-point buildings that introduce a healthy directness in the recent architectural debate. The latter uses rammed earth as its basic material and, as portrayed in Amos Gitai’s recent film Reflections on Architecture, is a good example of their professional freedom and proof of how paradigms shift: Who on earth would have questioned, only a couple of decades ago, that an industrial facility’s only goal was that of being an efficient, useful construction? Now, the sustainable agenda of building using materials with a low carbon footprint has become a much higher priority.
In addition, their practice has always been interested in phenomena that exceed the field of architecture, exploring links with literature, art, and cinema. In this case they invited Amos Gitai, an Israeli filmmaker with studies in architecture, to showcase the movie House. The domestic reference of the title, which we tend to associate with the intimacy of private life, is used in this case as a way to reflect the political and social conflict of a territory; in his words, it is the story of a house in West Jerusalem, abandoned during the 1948 war by its owner, a Palestinian doctor, requisitioned by the Israeli government as “vacant,” rented to Jewish Algerian immigrants in 1956, and then purchased by a university professor who undertakes its transformation into a patrician villa. The building site is like a theater where the former inhabitants, neighbors, workers, the builder, and the new owner are the characters. The film was censored by Israeli state television.