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Adaptive Regionalism by Devyanshi Arya and Pauline Luyckx

Interview of Partner Andreas Fries of Herzog & de Meuron at YACademy by Devyanshi Arya and Pauline Luyckx

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A Commentary on the Evolution of Herzog & De Meuron

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Architect Andreas Fries, in discussing Herzog & de Meuron’s architectural trajectory,illuminates the studio’s adaptability and regionalist ethos. The architect gave the example of concrete. Fries explains the evolution of the building material, going from having the monopoly on the market to raising questions about its usage, as a metaphor for the philosophical evolution of the studio, aligning with the ever changing tapestry of their contextual fabric.

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“The world always changes and I think this has a direct impact – it must have a direct impact – on architecture. As an architect you’re always interacting with society, with people, withneeds, with environments, with our planet. And like history, the world is evolving. […] You have to be always alert, always aware and not get stuck in thinking ‘I now have discovered how you have to do things’, you might have failed or things might change, so just be awake, look around and try to react in the best way to situations. This automatically has an impact on how you do projects, what they look like and how they work.”

Herzog & de Meuron’s approach to their projects capture a hyper-regionalistic approach of site specific interventions. Architect Fries mentions the Stadtcasino Concert Hall in Basel, a 19th century landmark renovated at the cusp of the 2000s. Fries says that true potency and “power of the existing building is its 18th-19th century architecture”. With adaptive reuse projects such as this one, the challenge seems to be enormous, especially when dealing with a civic landmark. Preserving and more so - “replicating” the existing facade for the addition is a bold gesture. In an architectural field where keywords like contrast and reversibility are the norm, Stadtcasino is a breath of fresh air that shows that going back to the language of the original building can generate value that goes beyond these notions.

The disconnected character of the building is transformed and reveals a new found connection with the city plaza in Basel. Similarly, the National Archeological Museum in Athens creates this remarkable presence with hidden and visible layers of urban found space to foster cultural exchange. This approach aligns with the studio’s commitment to not only transform spaces programmatically but also to elevate them into vibrant hubs of community interaction and shared heritage.

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In Herzog & de Meuron’s portfolio, the narrative unfolds as a delicate dance between preservation and modernization. Stadtcasino Concert Hall pushes the boundaries of this statement completely with the creation of a new kind of architecture, one that only fits uniquely in this site. “God is in the Details”, (Mies van der Rohe) may be a cliche saying, but it perfectly captures the thought and care that went into the material and ornamental elements used in the historic reconstruction. Architect Fries describes every element, from the exterior facade to the interior stucco wall treatment, design to the upholstery colors reminiscent of the 18th century, even the floor patterns mirroring the smallest accessories like door handles, that are not merely embellishments but integral components of a curated symphony that captures the essence of the past while embracing the contemporary.

Through the lens of history and needs of the present, each project becomes a reflection of thoughtful balance, a narrative where the past dialogues with the contemporary. Their projects extend beyond the physicality of structures; they are dynamic expressions of regionalism, creating spaces that resonate both with collective memory and pulse of the present.

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