Must be Eisenmann's first design to not resemble something in the process of collapse.
July 27, 2003
Now Taking the Field: Bold Stadium Designs
By CHRISTOPHER HAWTHORNE
Peter Eisenman's stadium design for the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League has a facade of shimmering aluminum panels and a field that can slide in and out of the arena as needed.
THE 70-year-old New York architect Peter Eisenman has spent most of his career engaging in rarefied debates about design theory and producing a small group of complex buildings to match. But the design he may become most famous for is a football stadium in Arizona, filling a plot of land where alfalfa used to grow.
Mr. Eisenman, a diehard football fan who has held New York Giants season tickets since 1957, unveiled the latest version of his stadium for the National Football League's Arizona Cardinals at a press conference in March. The stadium is set to open in Glendale, about 10 miles from downtown Phoenix, in 2006 and will hold concerts and conventions as well as football games. Sectioned like a barrel cactus or a grapefruit, it has a facade made of huge shimmering steel panels and is topped by a steel-and-fabric retractable roof. Also mobile, remarkably enough, is the field itself: it will sit in the sunshine just outside the stadium and then, on game days, slide inside like a rug on a conveyor belt.
Mr. Eisenman told reporters that the project, which he is working on with the hugely successful Kansas City firm H.O.K. Sport + Venue + Event, will be "a signature stadium" and "something not only to play ball in, but also to bring people to the area to visit." The notion of combining architectural celebrity and high-design fireworks to attract visitors is commonplace now in the planning of everything from museums to Prada boutiques. But in stadium design the notion is new. Given that the Cardinals have had just one winning season since moving to Arizona in 1988 — and routinely draw far fewer fans than the N.F.L. average — maybe it's a gambit worth trying.
Mr. Eisenman's design is among a group of forthcoming projects promising to shake up the staid, risk-averse realm of American stadium architecture. For more than a decade, what's new in sports design has been what's old — or at least old-fashioned. This is especially true for the dozen major league baseball stadiums that have opened since 1992. Their architectural formula has been simple and dependable: drape the thing in as many nostalgic touches as possible, then wait for fans to rush the turnstiles.
From Baltimore, where the first of baseball's new-but-nostalgic stadiums, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, opened 11 years ago, to San Francisco, where the Giants set up shop in Pacific Bell Park in 2000, the list of key elements has stayed the same: brick facades and old-fashioned signage; real grass instead of peeling artificial turf; nooks, crannies and other imposed eccentricities in the outfield. Even football, a sport less in thrall to the past than baseball, has welcomed a few antiqued stadiums, including the new Ford Field in Detroit, with features designed to look 75 years old.
The retro ballparks arrived on the scene as an unmistakable reaction to the dozen or so multipurpose stadiums that had opened in the 1960's and 70's and rank among the more dreadful examples of late-modernist American architecture. Though these postwar stadiums, mostly charmless concrete bowls surrounded by oceans of parking-lot asphalt, were never beloved by fans of any sport, they were particularly ill-suited for baseball. Modernist architecture is about symmetry, contemporaneity and the idea of universal solutions; its marriage with baseball, easily the most idiosyncratic and traditional of sports, was doomed from the start.
Indeed, it would be tough to overestimate just how desperate major-league fans were by the end of the 1980's for a return to baseball-only downtown stadiums with real grass. At the same time, owners of older, beloved ballparks, like Wrigley Field in Chicago (1914) and Tiger Stadium in Detroit (1912), were finding them not only cramped and rickety, but lacking a key revenue source: luxury boxes, which are de rigueur in new stadiums and can be leased for tens of thousands of dollars per season to corporate clients.
When it opened on April 6, 1992, H.O.K. Sport's Camden Yards seemed to solve both problems, combining old-school charm and up-to-date amenities in one compact, brick-wrapped package. On the heels of its success, H.O.K. was hired to produce baseball-only downtown parks — in Cleveland, Denver and Pittsburgh, among other cities — that deliver what the firm calls "that yesteryear feel." Other new stadiums — like the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field and Miller Park in Milwaukee, both by N.B.B.J. Architects — were engineering marvels, with soaring retractable roofs; but N.B.B.J. made sure to trim them in plenty of brick and arched openings.
By one estimate the baseball stadiums built since 1989 have cost more than $5 billion, with two-thirds of that charged to taxpayers, making the ballparks very expensive gifts to team owners. And the degree to which they have succeeded in reviving the neighborhoods where they were built remains an open question. But fans have welcomed them ecstatically. "The date of April 6, 1992, is to baseball what July 4, 1776, was to the Enlightenment," proclaims a fansite called baseball-statistics.com.
H.O.K. Sport, a division of the St. Louis-based Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, among the largest design firms in the world, has gone on to become perhaps the most successful spinoff in architectural history. "People would literally walk up to me on the street and say `I love so-and-so ballpark, and I just want to thank you,' " said Joe Spear, a founder of H.O.K. Sport.
In most recent baseball parks, however, the retro trend has grown stale, as if the architects are simply going through the retro motions. The low point came this spring in Cincinnati, where H.O.K. Sport's 42,000-seat Great American Ball Park opened on the shores of the Ohio River as the new home of the Cincinnati Reds baseball team. Great American's historical touches, like the reproduction riverboat smokestacks that sit behind the center-field fence, have a bland, even rote, feel. Where it faces downtown Cincinnati, the stadium is covered in a brick facade with a stone base, a flimsy shawl of tradition that the broad-shouldered steel frame of the stadium, rising up behind, seems simply to be shrugging off.
Reds fans seem mildly disappointed by Great American: grateful to have a gleaming new place to watch baseball, but well aware that it doesn't come close to matching the best of H.O.K. Sport's earlier efforts. Architects and design critics have been harsher. Just before the park opened, Marilyn Bauer, the art critic for The Cincinnati Enquirer, took six local design experts for a tour. The architect Michael McInturf provided a representative opinion when he dismissed Great American as "a theme park with a bad structure."
Without a doubt, though, the most cutting rebuke was the group's consensus that Great American — which cost $280 million of public money — was on the whole less successful than the building it replaced: Riverfront Stadium, one of those much-maligned multipurpose bowls. Riverfront opened in 1970 and in the last years of its life, after a utility company bought the naming rights, was known as Cinergy Field.
"You look at Cinergy Field with its consistent rhythm of bays; there was order there," David Niland, a retired architecture professor, told Ms. Bauer. "What we have all responded to at the new ballpark is the lack of a harmonic order on which coherent variations can be worked."
Great American won't be the last of the retro stadiums. Along with the Philadelphia firm Ewing Cole Cherry Brott, H.O.K. Sport is working on a neotraditionalist park for the Phillies that will open next spring.
But elsewhere fans are already getting used to stadiums with a more contemporary feel. In the Southern California city of Carson, a new soccer stadium, centerpiece of Rossetti Architects' Home Depot National Training Center, opened earlier this year. Home to the Galaxy of Major League Soccer, and recently named the site of the women's World Cup finals this fall, the stadium is appealingly, refreshingly straightforward. There is no brick, and its white roof, a Teflon-coated fiberglass canopy covering most of the stadium's 27,000 seats, adds a dash of high style.
Outside the United States, in places where unapologetically contemporary public buildings are more common, stadium design hasn't been held back by the tug of the past. Several stunning examples of the genre were built in France, Japan and South Korea for the 1998 and 2002 World Cup soccer matches, and the Swiss duo Herzog & de Meuron recently won a competition for an Olympic Stadium in Beijing with a design for the 2008 games that has been compared to a giant bird's nest.
In London, an ambitious new Wembley Stadium, designed by Norman Foster with H.O.K. Sport and budgeted at $1 billion, has broken ground. With its soaring steel arch, a semicircular engineering marvel that loops over the field like a handle over a bucket, it promises to set a towering standard for contemporary sports architecture, though some Londoners already seem wary that it will be an expensive reprise of the recent Millennium Dome folly. And in 2000 the Montreal Expos baseball team unveiled a coolly minimalist new park design by two Canadian firms, though that plan appears doomed by the franchise's uncertain future.
In the case of both Mr. Eisenman's work for the Cardinals and a new stadium for the San Diego Padres baseball team — designed by Antoine Predock and scheduled to open next spring — the architects are joining forces with H.O.K. Sport. The division of labor seems clear. H.O.K. is responsible for the meat and potatoes — all the structural and logistical issues that make building a sports complex a hugely complicated undertaking. (These hulking buildings, after all, combine elements of theater, retail and public-works architecture — along with worries about bugs, thunderstorms and grass fertilizer.) The big-name architect's job is to give the stadium some sex appeal, along with the kind of architectural coherence so lacking at Great American Ball Park.
Mr. Eisenman, whose firm is also working on stadiums in Spain and Germany, has little doubt that sports fans are ready for architectural daring. "You couldn't find a more conservative ownership than the Cardinals', or a more conservative community than Phoenix," he said. "But this is a radical design, and everybody loves it."
It would be a stretch to call Mr. Predock's scheme for the Padres radical. It has a handful of throwback elements, including an existing warehouse that will be incorporated into the left-field stands. Yet in spirit Mr. Predock's design is resolutely, if calmly, contemporary. And because his client is a baseball team, it may be represent a bigger step forward even than Mr. Eisenman's.
Without resorting to sentimentalism, Petco Park will incorporate local materials and motifs including stucco, sandstone, palm trees and trellises. It pulls out the team offices and other infrastructure that's usually buried in the bowels of a stadium to fill two stone towers fronting the grandstand. In its relaxed charisma, Petco resembles one of the very few 1960's stadiums that continue to appeal to fans: Dodger Stadium, a 56,000-seat baseball-only park carved elegantly into the side of Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles.
"Traditional aspects in ballpark design can be overt and cloying, but they can also be more subliminal," said Mr. Predock, who is based in Albuquerque, N.M. "I didn't think about doing any retro detailing with this ballpark at all — that would the last thing that would come to mind. For me, the power of the old ballparks isn't gimmickry, but something more authentic. When I think of Wrigley, I think of how you move through one of the thresholds and then the green field just explodes in front of you."
Mr. Predock's best designs, mostly public buildings in the West and Southwest, feature the clean lines and spare appeal of modernist architecture without its sometimes dismissive disregard for site or local tradition. In that sense, Mr. Predock and baseball, whose fans are so averse to change that they still complain about rule changes made 30 years ago, appear well matched. He may be just the architect, in other words, to rouse the sport from its decade-long retro reverie. *
Christopher Hawthorne is a contributing editor at Metropolis magazine.
Interactive Feature: Stadium Architecture
Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company
Must be Eisenmann's first design to not resemble something in the process of collapse.
Is this to be built or is it just a vision?
July 18, 2004
House of Games
By HERBERT MUSCHAMP
The architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava, in front of the Nations Wall, a kinetic, computerized sculpture that moves in a wavelike motion. When the computer is turned off, this is how the sculpture looks from the rear.
Slide Show: Calatrava's Vision
More agony, please. We're champions. Agon -- the ancient Greek conception of contest -- has been lately much on our minds.
The Olympic Games are returning to Greece. And Santiago Calatrava, a Spanish genius of Parnassian accomplishments, has redesigned a sports complex that now embodies the tensile strength of athletes in their glory. Sadly, the Terror Wars may disallow the sacred truce to which Greek city-states subscribed during the Olympics of ancient times. All the more reason to educate ourselves about the agonistic way of life. It offers a way out of the dualistic thinking that distorts contemporary perspectives of our complex world.
You may be familiar with the word ''agon'' as the title of a ballet choreographed by Balanchine and of the score Stravinsky composed for it. (First staged in 1957, the ballet remains in the repertory of Balanchine's company, the New York City Ballet.) A suite of movements for 12 dancers, ''Agon'' is an abstract work, but filled with whiffs of jazz dance, calesthenics, 17th-century French court etiquette and surreal inversions of the classical canon.
''There is nothing about winning or losing,'' the dance critic Edwin Denby observed of ''Agon'' soon after its premiere. ''The little athletic meet is festive -- you watch young people competing for fun at the brief height of their power and form.''
The Greeks were not so indifferent to winning. The gods smile on victors, they believed. And so do we. Even so, the Greek notion of contest had as much to do with the union of opposites as with the triumph of one side over another. And it was rooted in the spirit of sacrifice, the ideal of service to something higher than the self.
Santiago Calatrava was famously trained in two disciplines: architecture and engineering. I see his work as the product of a contest between the two. They represent two forms of learning. Reason and intuition, you could call them, though this distinction is contrived. Engineers are intuitive; architects are rational; intuition can be superrational, for that matter.
Still, the distinction accurately reflects the way builders saw things in the 19th century. Engineering meant train sheds, bridges and ships. Architecture meant reworking the historical styles. Modern, 20th-century architecture began with the goal of turning engineering into architecture. Aestheticized structure, as in the Miesian tower, for example, became the dominant form of building.
Some engineers criticize Calatrava because prominent features of his buildings are structurally inessential. They serve purely expressive purposes. Architects, meanwhile, fault his work for appearing to be stuck in the 20th century. But the appeal of Calatrava's work, if you are susceptible to it, lies in its hybrid quality. Rather than fusing architecture and engineering, the designs arise from the struggle between them.
Balanchine said: ''Struggle means to be together. It's not so easy to unite and to be together.'' He was referring specifically to the agon between music and choreography, but he might well have been speaking of the relationship between the sexes, or between the partners in a pas de deux. ''When you're immediately together, it's'' -- he clapped his hands -- ''and you evaporate.''
The Greeks really did believe in centaurs. In their scheme of thought, almost every aspect of life came down to a contest between nomos (order, enlightenment, reason) and physis (nature, the given, disarray). This was the essential agon. The contest took place not just among cities, teams and individuals but within them. You hate to get up in the morning, but you do it anyhow. Agony. That is what being a centaur feels like.
Or a creative artist. It is agonizing to go back and forth between instincts and the consciousness necessary for their realization. A person could get the bends. Greek architecture ceremonializes the sacred site by bringing order to nature. But in the contemporary city, physis is found within the sprawling urban agglomeration.
Physis is capitalism, up to a point, the agora expanded to global scale. Shopping is our second nature. The Olympics and Calatrava both struggle against the commercial imperatives of desire. Calatrava's work is invariably transcendent, even when it houses restaurants and retail.
The new design transforms an existing complex built in 1982. Calatrava's most spectacular intervention is an immense roof, spanning nearly 1,000 feet in length, for the main stadium. Consisting of two bent ''leaves,'' the steel and polycarbonite structure is supported at just four points.
The Velodrome, designed for cycling events, also sports a new roof, measuring 475 feet long, of wood, metal and glass. Calatrava's master plan also includes parks, plazas and other public spaces, and a Nations Wall, a tubular steel sculpture whose elements undulate in wavelike movements.
Calatrava has claimed three sources of inspiration for his design: classical Greek (for the overall plan of the site); Byzantine (the roof's arches); and a general quality that he describes simply as Mediterranean: ''You see it in the landscaping, the light and color (with the reliance on white, blue and ocher), the use of materials such as ceramic tile.''
A fourth source of influence can be discerned, even if Calatrava does not acknowledge it: the vision of ancient Greece constructed by 19th-century Europeans. It was the Victorians who gave us a Greece of gleaming white temples, uninhibited pagans, worshipers of beauty. And it is the Victorians who first saw the classical beauty in structural engineering, in works by Paxton, Brunel and Eiffel.
Obviously, the 19th-century contest between architecture and engineering concerned more than the relative merits of iron, glass, brick and stone. The issue stood in for deeper questions, about social identity, attitudes toward change and the displacement of religious authority by commerce and industry. Architecture was a field in which such matters could be debated by proxy. It still is.
Today, according to the policy analyst Joseph Nye, we are witnessing a global contest between hard and soft power, between coercive and persuasive force. At the moment, hard power has the upper hand. If we're fortunate, the Athens Olympics will take place without violence. Even in antiquity, however, the truce was only temporary. A lasting peace probably won't break out in the Mediterranean world this summer.
Still, for those who advocate soft power, the Olympics are instructive. They remind us that persuasive force is not an exercise for fools. It takes strenuous exertion to generate soft power, as it does to train Olympic athletes. It takes agon.
Architecture is a dynamo for the production of soft power. Today the contest is joined among architects of dazzling artistic variety. No style, no movement, dominates the field. The contest itself is all. And it is more than a beauty contest of forms. As with the Victorians, it speaks for larger questions.
What cities will allow the agon to take place? Which will tolerate the pain of the creative process? Where will the soft power come from? Let me give Denby the last word: ''Fortunately in art there are as many first prizes as contestants, even if so very few ever win one.''
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Herzog/de Meuron and their sensual stadium
We spoke to Jacques Herzog, one of the architects who planned the Allianz Arena in Munich. The new soccer stadium is scheduled to open in spring 2005 and host the opening game of the 2006 World Cup.
Munich, August 2, 2004
You would perhaps expect something slightly more imposing, more impressive. After all, we have come to the Mount Olympus of architecture where Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron fire off ideas like lightning blazing from the skies - among them the Allianz Arena in Munich. And suddenly you find yourself in the quiet Rheingasse in Basel, Switzerland, number six, at the very prosaic side entrance.
Twenty-five years ago, the duo began operations in a compact villa, but even now and after a huge number of completed projects scattered all over Europe and the world, there is no suggestion of grandeur at first sight.
But as is so often the case, you cannot judge a book by its cover. Herzog/de Meuron employs 180 staff worldwide, around 130 of them here in Basel. The architects' practice is renowned as one of the most creative in the industry and is currently at work on no less than 30 projects in Europe, Asia and America, "although 30 is the absolute maximum," Jacques Herzog insists.
Two years ago, the Hyatt Foundation honored the pair with the Pritzker prize, equivalent to a knighthood for architects. Ever since then, Herzog and de Meuron have been recognized as the crème de la crème of current practitioners.
Their careers appear inextricably linked: they were both born in 1950 in Basel and studied together at the Zurich Technical University from 1970 onwards. Following their studies, they trained under Professor Dolf Schnebli before establishing Herzog/de Meuron in Basel in 1978. Both are visiting lecturers at Harvard and teach at their old alma mater in Zurich.
Herzog and de Meuron have earned their reputation by continually exceeding public expectations and dreaming up new solutions for exteriors and facades, astounding observers time and again. The pair, both of them keen amateur soccer players, deployed this capacity for surprise to great effect in the bid process for the new Munich soccer stadium, the "Allianz Arena," described by Franz Beckenbauer, head of the 2006 World Cup Organizing Committee, as one of the most unusual in the world.
The first match is scheduled to take place in about a year’s time, when the Allianz Arena and its pulsating, illuminated facade is expected to captivate even non-football fans. The swirling mixture of colors and changing intensity of light to reflect events on the field means that the stadium will appear as a vibrant, almost living organism.
The oval Arena, 258 meters long, 227 meters wide and 50 meters high, is a joint project between Munich’s soccer clubs Bayern Munich and TSV 1860, and will accommodate 66,000 fans on Europe’s most steeply-inclined terraces. One of the biggest highlights after the opening will be the football world cup, to be hosted by Germany in 2006. Six matches, including the prestigious opening game and the opening ceremony, will take place in the Allianz Arena.
Herzog dismisses critics who consider the whole thing is just smoke and mirrors: "Effects, light, top players, drama, it’s all part of the show in soccer," he responds, naming his mission as providing the appropriate stage and scenery. The pair turned to traditional English football stadiums for inspiration, where the fans are as close as possible to the pitch. "Architecture has to be a sensual and intelligent medium, otherwise it’s just boring," Herzog says.
Buildings as art
Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron have designed a diverse range of projects including blocks of flats, factories, locomotive sheds and university libraries, but they are best known for stadiums and museums.
They shot to fame in the year 2000 by transforming the Bankside power station in London into the Tate Modern: the project represented a major breakthrough for the Swiss duo, as the building was more than just a stunning setting for modern works of art, being hailed as a work of art in itself by leading figures in the industry.
Next stop: the Olympics
The architects confirmed their growing reputation as masters of the unusual with the unique design for Munich.
But there is another huge project on the horizon: the new Peking National Stadium will be the focal point of the 2008 summer Olympics. It is the Swiss duo's first ever project in China.
"Ideally, architecture changes a city," Herzog declares. Only time will tell if the Allianz Arena in Munich comes close to this ideal, but it is already clear that the stadium will prove a magnet for visitors.
Once the Arena is complete and the general public experiences the boiling atmosphere, some wag somewhere will doubtless find a suitable nickname, Herzog hopes, although he has already come up with an idea: "The world's most beautiful soccer stadium," he suggests. It is perhaps a little too long, but it is unquestionably accurate.
This article was first published in the employee magazine "Allianz Journal".
Herzog and de Meuron’s otherworldly stadium in Munich.
by PAUL GOLDBERGER
Issue of 2006-03-20
Most sports stadiums that have been built in recent decades are hulking concrete monoliths or cute exercises in nostalgia, and they give the impression of having been crafted either by highway engineers or by theme-park designers. Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, whose firm won the Pritzker Prize in 2001, appear quite determined to be architects, and that is why it is remarkable that the Swiss team was invited to create two of the most conspicuous sports venues in the world: the recently completed Allianz Arena, in Munich, which will house this year’s World Cup of soccer; and the Olympic Stadium in Beijing, which is now under construction and will be the centerpiece of the 2008 Summer Games. Both designs suggest that a sports arena, for all the blood and sweat on the field, can be an exalted space of otherworldly beauty.
The Allianz Arena has a delightfully surreal appearance. The exterior is covered in tufted, translucent material; viewed from afar, the stadium resembles a giant, quilted doughnut. At night, it becomes positively radiant: the façade is lit from within, which means that the entire arena glows. (The windows of a hundred and six luxury boxes can be partially discerned behind the curved scrim.) On most evenings, the building emits a soft white light, reflecting the silvery tone of the synthetic skin, but on nights when one of the two Munich soccer clubs has a home game—the teams share the stadium—it changes its skin color: red for Bayern Munich, blue for the Munich Lions. The shifting lighting schemes atop the Empire State Building seem timid compared with this chameleon.
The arena retains its allure during the day. The unusual material—ETFE, or ethylene tetra fluoro ethylene—gives the stadium a cushiony texture, as if it were an oversized, permanently moored blimp; you want to climb up and touch it. And its subtle white hue eerily duplicates the Munich sky on a cloudy winter afternoon—the stadium practically disappears. In the sun, it brightens. The 2,760 tufts—made of two sheets of ETFE, each 0.2 millimetres thick, which are sewn together and filled with air—are arranged in a strict diamond pattern, giving the façade a subtle sleekness. There are obvious jokes to be made about the Allianz Arena—one could say that it resembles the Michelin Man, or even a soccer ball—but Herzog and de Meuron are too good to play trite visual games, and the building easily transcends such literal-minded comparisons.
The Allianz Arena also serves its function superbly. The membrane-like roof, which is retractable, permits ultraviolet light to filter through, allowing the natural turf on the playing field to thrive. Nineteen of the exterior tufts tilt open on days when a breeze is welcome. The stands, arrayed on three tiers, are unusually steep, creating nearly flawless sight lines; the elegant gray seats, curved and comfortable, look like miniature versions of the famous egg chairs by Arne Jacobsen. Like a great opera house, the stadium seems more intimate than it is, and you feel connected to the field even if you are in the upper tier.
The Allianz Arena is on Munich’s northern fringe, near the intersection of two Autobahns, and it is designed to be as exciting when you zip past it in your BMW as it is when you approach it on foot. It has the magnetic pull of a true icon: I was glad I wasn’t behind the wheel when I rode in a car to the arena at night, since I couldn’t take my eyes off its luminous form and unsettling monumentality. Buildings aren’t supposed to be so huge and so soft. These days, we tend to associate softness with spinelessness, as if worthy architectural ideas had to be expressed in terms of crisp, hard form. (Think of the brutal angularities of Rem Koolhaas or Zaha Hadid.) With this gently radical stadium, Herzog and de Meuron prove that softness is not for sissies.
Unlike most American stadiums, the Allianz Arena is not surrounded by acres of parking lots, and the visual approach to the arena is as meticulously designed as anything within the building itself. Parking space is embedded in a partially sunken multilayered structure, atop which is the main pedestrian entry path to the arena. The path is lined with enormous lamps that look like hot-air balloons—whimsical echoes of the façade—and it begins at a train-and-bus station, so that people who arrive by car and those who take public transportation merge together as they walk along the elevated boulevard.
When you enter the arena, you go up one of several monumental staircases tucked between the pillowy exterior and the concrete inner structure of the stadium. The staircases curve as they rise, reflecting the rounded shape of the stadium. The stairs are one of the best things in the building. You get enticing glimpses of the angular metal framework that supports the façade as you walk up, and, at night, the colored lights create a lurid atmosphere that bears a beguiling resemblance to German Expressionism: “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” transported to the realm of sport.
Oddly, one of the few significant precedents for this building is also in Munich: Frei Otto and Günter Behnisch’s great Olympic Stadium of 1972, with its lyrical Plexiglas roof. Compared with the Allianz Arena, the Olympic Stadium is just a jaunty tent stretched over a conventional stadium, but it was quite something in its time, and it still looks good. Herzog and de Meuron, however, have made a more profound statement about the potential of sensual form to achieve epic grandeur, and there are no self-indulgent gestures: every aspect of their design amplifies the experience of attending a soccer game.
The supple exterior of the Allianz Arena would seem to overwhelm everything else about the building, until you go inside and discover how well it works, and how much else there is in Herzog and de Meuron’s repertoire. The same thing can be said about their design for the de Young Museum, in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, which opened this past fall. The museum’s façade—made up of intricately textured sheets of embossed and perforated copper—is so dazzling that you expect the building to be an empty showpiece; yet its interior is useful and intelligent. The museum is as dark as the Munich stadium is light, and as hard-edged as Munich is rounded, but in both cases Herzog and de Meuron have managed to invent a wholly new kind of exterior, and marry it to a fully realized building. They use these seductive skins to lure us into their architecture, but they don’t leave their imaginations at the door.
The original de Young Museum, a grandiose, Spanish-colonial structure, was so badly damaged in the Loma Prieta earthquake, in 1989, that it couldn’t be repaired. In 1998, the museum’s trustees decided to erect a new building, and to hold a competition to find an architect. Herzog and de Meuron, who are based in Basel, had designed the Tate Modern, in London, but they were primarily known for small, minimalist spaces—such as the exquisite Goetz Collection, a private museum in Munich—and they hadn’t completed any major commissions in the United States. They had, however, been among the three finalists for the expansion of the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, and although their scheme was deemed too experimental for the conservative Modern, being on its short list raised Herzog and de Meuron’s status. In 1999, they won the de Young competition.
The museum consists of two sections: a long, horizontal wing, containing the galleries and several internal garden courts; and an unusual tower, a kind of twisting parallelogram, containing the museum’s education and study centers. The tower rises a hundred and forty-four feet, and it has an observatory room at the top. Its odd form seems willful, and it is based on an unnecessary conceit: the top section is perfectly aligned with the street grid of San Francisco, which can be seen from the observatory’s windows. No matter; it’s a well-wrought piece of sculpture, and the tower and the three-level main wing form a strong composition, a modern version of a cathedral and its campanile.
The remarkable pointillist façade covers both the main wing and the tower, further unifying them. It is actually a computer-generated pattern of dots, a gargantuan version of the pixels that make up a digital photograph. Such an effect could seem slick, but the building feels dignified and compellingly strange. It is smooth, like so many modern buildings, yet it is as textured as a rococo church. And do those dots make a picture of something, or are they simply ornament? They are both things at once—strictly speaking, the dots form a picture of dappled light filtering through a canopy of trees, but it comes across as a tantalizing abstraction, a color-field painting without the color.
The ambiguity of the copper façade entices you into an entry court, and, from there, into a high central lobby. The layout is irregular but clear and easy to grasp. The galleries are gracious and accommodating, with varying ceiling heights, natural light, and, in some cases, lovely views of Golden Gate Park. The twentieth-century galleries, on the main floor, have stone floors, skylights, and white walls; the upstairs galleries, which contain smaller and earlier works, have wood floors, colored walls, and, in several rooms, wooden ceilings. The tight, triangular garden courts bring the expansive landscape of the park inside, with a special intensity. Throughout the museum, the flow through space is as logically programmed as in any classical building. The art—in particular, a spectacular triptych by Ed Ruscha, commissioned for the lobby—looks superb in the variety of settings that Herzog and de Meuron have crafted for it. Walking through the de Young, you begin to wonder why we tend to think of new museums as being either potent works of architecture or sensitive environments for art, when this museum so deftly manages to be both.
Last year, Herzog and de Meuron also completed work on an expansion of the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis. The addition is clad in aluminum mesh that has been delicately crinkled, softening the most hard-edged of materials. Both museums have a kind of painstaking sensuousness. They are sombre and inviting at the same time. Can there be such a thing as Swiss passion? Herzog and de Meuron seem determined to prove that this is not an oxymoron—that utter precision need not come at the cost of emotional engagement with architecture.
Herzog and de Meuron’s office in Basel, once tiny, now has a hundred and seventy employees, and they are getting all kinds of work. Ian Schrager just hired them to design a condominium project on Bond Street, in lower Manhattan, for which the architects have devised a façade that will have large plate-glass windows separated by heavy, rounded glass columns—a shimmery, twenty-first-century version of SoHo’s cast-iron façades. It is a brilliant scheme, and Schrager and his partner, Aby Rosen, are building it pretty much as the architects designed it.
Herzog, who is the firm’s spokesman, has positioned himself less as an architectural theorist than as an acute observer of culture who happens to design serious buildings. The point of his practice, he told me recently, is “not just to make a beautiful object.” Ambiguity, he said, lies at the heart of his designs. He wants his architecture to make a point about the human psyche. “Architecture must deal with doubt—it is not just about style, or ‘I like this’ or ‘I don’t like that,’ ” he said. Herzog is known for making delphic pronouncements, and his words tend to be more pensive than the sweeping absolutes that architects like Koolhaas adopt. Life is a complicated, painful business, he seems to be saying, and architecture should be neither an escape from stress nor a literal representation of it but, rather, a means of achieving complex insight. Herzog rejects the idea that architecture should provide either simple physical comfort or intellectual challenge—to him, these two things are not mutually exclusive.
I asked him about his firm’s turn from the austere visual vocabulary that defines his early work. “The really interesting thing about ornamentation is the strong psychological side inherent in it,” Herzog said. Ornament, as he sees it, is a reflection of the intricacies of the human mind. The Beijing Olympic Stadium, for example, will look like a vast mesh of concrete sticks, crossing one another in every direction—a network that is both literally and symbolically a web. It will be impossible to tell where structure ends and decoration begins, for they are one and the same. The result should be disconcertingly gorgeous.
“I am more interested in the dark side inside comfort,” Herzog said. “It is like the films of Hitchcock—that’s how life is. The dark moment, the criminal moment, the sexual moment, sits within everything else. Perhaps it is strange to hear this from someone who became known as a minimalist. But minimalism is just another guise, another form of dress.”
Allianz Arena at night:
If FC Bayern München is playing:
If TSV 1860 München is playing:
wow, our planet will look like something out of Star Trek in just a few decades. I'd personally prefer arenas (and other architecture for that matter) to embrace functionality and be say 250,000 seat stadiums that somehow solved the lines of sight problem. While I and surely appreciate the beauty of these structures (some more than others) I'd like people to focus on the fact that these places exist to accomodate sporting events, not the other way around.
The Munich stadium is a waste IMO, with such a small capacity it's only good, while it could've been the premier European stadium that the 100,000 seat Camp Nou is, maybe nowhere near as elegant, but surely pleases more fans.
I doubt that was the architect's decision to make. The owner of the Munich stadium probably didn't want a larger capacity.Originally Posted by Jake