Herzog's theory of building renovation

2 minutes of reading time
Jun 17, 2015 2:00:00 AM

A theory of architectural evolution. Change to endure.

Herzog has the key: change to endure. He argues that the durability of a building does not depend on the solidity of its construction, but on its versatility, on its ease of change of use and, therefore, of admitting successive renovations. Jacques Herzog, together with his partner Pierre de Moureon, both winners of the 2001 Pritzker Architecture Prize, inaugurated the new BBVA headquarters in the north of Madrid and applied this premise to the project with unquestionable mastery.

But it was not that simple. Upon their arrival in Madrid, what the Swiss architects found was a very new area, somewhat dreary and arid, with no life outside and no identity of its own. A desert, to use their terminology. So the two devised a project so that, when the city arrives there, the building will be absorbed and change its uses. Jacques Herzog argues that power can be introduced with monumentality to "scare" people, although they are more interested in introducing the intimate scale in large spaces. This is what they did, without going any further, in the project that launched them to world fame, the extremely important refurbishment with change of use of the Tate Modern in London. There, they say, they discovered the city and learned to work with little architecture and to give more importance to thinking than to drawing.


This distinguished pair of Swiss architects insists that, in the distant future, their project will be transformed into a neighborhood where housing and stores will replace offices. It has already happened with palaces, parks and monasteries that end up forming an integral and integrating part of the urban landscape, after a timely rehabilitation. And that will happen in this bank headquarters as well. This is undoubtedly the aim of Herzog, a firm believer in the reconversion of buildings for uses in keeping with the passing of time. It is a kind of theory of evolution, applied, with enormous success and modernity, to the concept of architecture.

He declares himself a supporter of the medieval plot and the intense street life that accompanies it, and affirms that this vital pulse towards the outside of one's own home, towards the public space, is in decline throughout Europe. With an interesting exception: Spain, a country where life is also lived outwardly. Urban developments in the city center undermine the survival of the typical street life of the Mediterranean city, where stores, homes, leisure spaces and civic life are intertwined in the same route. Architecture, therefore, should not send a single, closed, immovable message.

These Swiss architects believe that beauty is not invented, but produced when buildings work. The new BBVA headquarters will do the same.