Autobiographical traces

We enter a room with three cabinets of objects. They are stacked by project from the beginning to the present of Herzog de Meuron’s career. We are confronted by taped-together models of the Elbphilharmonie; blue foam massing models; a 1:50 model of the seating; a Hellraiser-esque model with two foam eggs for the concert halls. Naturally, both stages of the Tate Modern sit on shelves. The recent extension belays its unsatisfying construction with models that stack volumes or divide the form by a grid. Famous items can be found: the pencil elevation of Ricola storage or the balsa-and-biro house in Tavole. Iteration seems partially repressed in many, but downright celebrated in others.

A panel, “In the making,” rationalizes the collection as traces of a 50-year practice—a requel to Archaeology of the Mind (CCA, 2002). Arranged chronologically, captions note name, date, and location. This taxonomy is distinct, perhaps even staid, in comparison to exhibitions by Mike Nelson (2023, Hayward) and Anselm Kiefer (2018/23, White Cube). Photos of buildings are by Thomas Ruff and Andres Gursky. Or rather abstractions of buildings, from the flatness of Ruff’s Ricola storage (1993) to the pixeled jpeg hdem05 2009 of the Elbphilharmonie.

Beyond this autobiography, one conclusion is that the show represents changes to how architects think about and use media. Scanning the room, the Dominus Winery is represented by details on tracing paper or a roof model sat on an aerial photograph, techniques to be replaced by plastic-formed objects (Prada Tokyo) or foam blocks (Vitra Haus).

Two galleries are dedicated to the modernist trope of architecture as a “healing machine.” A film documents a clinic in Basel; the final space shows a children’s hospital in models and diagrams, plans and thematic wall panels. A discussion of BIM modelling is complemented with a VR game to guide a character through the as-yet-unbuilt hospital. At one end of the almost all-white gallery a 1:1 facade is complete with a window, rug and furniture to create the illusion of inside and out. Slick in its presentation, the audience here is unclear, but certainly an antidote to hospitals in the UK at present. 



Herzog & de Meuron, Royal Academy of Arts, London



curated by Vicky Richardson and Herzog & de Meuron