8 Art Museums Brought to Life by Herzog and De Meuron

Top Lists, Architecture

April 5, 2021

Founded in 1978 in Basel by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Herzog & de Meuron is possibly the most famous architectural partnership in the world.

Ever since creating their first collaborative design, the tiny 1980 Blue House in Oberwil, Switzerland, their practice has been characterized by an original combination of great formal inventiveness and subtle references to architectural archetypes. They are known for their great attention to details, materials, and textures, and praised for both their dedication to tradition and vernacular forms and their thoroughly modern innovation.

Indeed, Herzog & de Meuron combine tradition and innovation in such a way that the two elements actually enhance each other. In 2001, they were awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2001, the first time the prize was awarded for the work of a partnership rather than a single architect.

Herzog & de Meuron have authored a wide range of projects - from the small scale of a private home to the large-scale of urban design - but are especially considered masters of museum design.

Here are eight Herzog & de Meuron art museums you should definitely visit.

Featured image: Walker Art Center's Cargill Lounge, via Creative Commons.

Parrish Art Museum

Located in Water Mill, New York, Parrish Art Museum spans across 14 acres of meadow, honoring the location's built and natural environment. Inspired by the light, water, and sky, the Herzog & de Meuron-designed building both respects and reflects the singular natural beauty and rich artistic legacy of Long Island’s East End.

The exterior evokes the vernacular architecture of sheds and potato barns that for generations doubled as artist work spaces, taking advantage of natural north light. It features a long, elegant white corrugated metal roof that extends over porches and large sections of glass incorporated into the north and south walls. The landscape in which the building is situated evokes the agricultural heritage and iconic natural features of the East End. As the architect explained, the building's materialization "is a direct expression of readily accessible building materials and local construction methods."

The interior mirrors the purity, simplicity, and functionality of the exterior, complete with natural wood from a 200-year-old heart pine salvaged from a demolished Virginia textile mill. It features 10 sky-lit galleries bathed in natural light.

Featured image: Parrish Art Museum, courtesy of the museum.

Goetz Collection

A private collection of contemporary art in Munich, the building of the Goetz Collection was designed and constructed by Herzog & De Meuron nearly two decades ago. A freestanding volume nestled on an intimate site between the street and a house from the 1960, the building is designed to be used both as a public as well as a purely private gallery. Its architectural conception corresponds to the character of the collection it holds, including artists such as Nauman, Ryman, Twombly, Kounellis, Federle, Rückriem and others.

A timber configuration rests on a reinforced-concrete base, while a similar matt glass strip surrounds the timber volume at the uppermost section, admitting diffuse glare-free daylight from a height of 4 meters into the exhibition spaces. The building has a dramatic evening essence, as the upper glowing galleries seem to hover over the illuminated ground level.

As the architects explained, the appearance of the building changes depending on the weather: "Depending on the daylight conditions and the point of view of the observer, the gallery appears either as a closed, flush volume consisting of related materials (birch plywood, matt glass, untreated aluminum) or as a wooden box, resting on two trowels in the garden."

Featured image: Goetz Collection, via Creative Commons.

M+ Museum

A cultural center for 20th and 21st century art, design, architecture, and the moving image, the M+ Museum is located in Hong Kong's West Kowloon Cultural District. First revealed in 2013, it is a key venue in creating interdisciplinary exchange between the visual arts and the performing arts in Asia. It was designed to connect directly to the Airport Express via an underground tunnel in an effort to challenge artists and curators with an unprecedented exhibition space.

A horizontal building hovering above this “industrial” landscape houses, it consists of a rough, large-scale exhibition universe that quite literally anchors the entire building in the ground. A space of unprecedented potential, it features spaces that range from the conventional white cube, reconfigurable spaces, screening rooms and multipurpose facilities to so-called third spaces and even an “Industrial Space".

The building "reiterates the iconic character of Kowloon’s skyline on one hand, yet on the other hand, this convention is subverted by the transmitted message of the art, visible from afar, which will consequently make M+ a site of constant renewal, rather than being locked into a predefined form."

Featured image: M+ Hong Kong. © Virgile Simon Bertrand. Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron.

CaixaForum Madrid

A museum and cultural center in Madrid, facing the Paseo del Prado and the Botanical Garden vis à vis, CaixaForum's building is a heavy mass, detached from the ground in apparent defiance of the laws of gravity and, in a real sense, drawing the visitors inside. The architect made use of the the classified brick shell of the old power station, inserting the new architectural components which now appear to float above the street level.

The structure forms two worlds - the below one buried beneath the topographically landscaped plaza, which provides space for a theater/auditorium, service rooms, and several parking spaces, and the above one which houses the entrance lobby and galleries, a restaurant and administrative offices. The silhouette of the building reflects the roofscape of the surrounding buildings.

Featured image: CaixaForum Madrid, via Creative Commons.

Walker Art Center

In 2005, Herzog & de Meuron finished a $70 million expansion of the Walker Art Center. The idea of the expansion was not only to increase the exhibition area, but primarily to give the public more room for urban living inspired by the variety and richness of contemporary art.

For this project, architects explored new possibilities that are beyond the purity of modernist and minimalist forms related to the early work. A five-story building that doubled the exhibition space, the design is new but familiar, intimate and grand, fragile but strong, simple but complex, dynamic and composed. In its front, the modernistic brick cube explores sensory experiences through the use of skins. The greater transparency was achieved through large expanses of glass that reveal the interior spaces. The building also forged strong dialectical relationship not only between the original building and expansion, but also with the environment.

Featured image: Walker Art Center, via Creative Commons.

De Young - Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Located in San Francisco, the De Young Museum is housed in a state-of-the-art new facility that integrates art, architecture and the natural landscape in one multi-faceted destination. The idea behind the building was "to make it possible for the Golden Gate Park to penetrate the museum (…) to make the architecture of the new building permeable, open, and inviting for the people of San Francisco."

Clad in perforated copper, the building is composed of three main architectural elements, embodying the open-ended concept of art fostered by the museum. A pleasant, functional environment, the landscape design focuses on creating a link between the building and its surroundings through historic elements from the original de Young Museum. The copper was intentionally chosen because it would slowly become green due to oxidation and therefore fade into its natural surroundings. The interior offers classically proportioned rooms or galleries with fixed walls and overhead lighting.

Featured image: De Young Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco. Image via Creative Commons.

Pérez Art Museum Miami

A modern and contemporary art museum in Miami, the Pérez Art Museum Miami is an open and inviting structure simultaneously oriented towards the park, the water and the city. Its architectural concept is based on the building’s environmental circumstances, being lifted off the ground due to its proximity to water for the art to be placed above storm surge level.

The space underneath is used for open-air parking, exposed to light and fresh air that can also handle storm-water runoff. The stilts that support the museum creates a veranda-like public space that welcomes visitors to the museum and the park. It is surrounded with lush vegetation that creates an overall microclimate reducing the extreme temperature gaps between outside and inside in the hot weather. The interior is organized around four different gallery types - Overview, Focus, Project and Special Exhibition galleries - occupying part of the first and the entire second floor.

Featured image: Pérez Art Museum Miami. Image by Phillip Pessar via flickr.