The Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989 damaged the old de Young museum building located in Golden Gate Park and uncovered severe seismic flaws in the building and hence a comprehensive plan to rebuild the building in stages was overtaken to make the de Young museum up to date. In January 1999 the Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron were chosen to rebuild the De young museum, due to their willingness to engage in an extended process of architectural design and also because their prior work demonstrated a drive to explore new building solutions for each client. Each of Herzog & de Meuron’s prior buildings were known for their strikingly different façade treatments and the use of uncommon materials, textures and patterns. “The museum wanted an architectural statement that would be unique to its vision, its collections, and its site in the Golden Gate Park”. (Deborah Frieden, De Young project Director)
Their initial concept for the new museum’s structure consisted of three parallel bars that extended into the lush landscape. Their design was an elegant, restrained and aesthetically cautious idea for the new building. In context of the park itself, their design dissolved the boundaries between the inside and the outside of the landscape. The monolithic roof with its horizontal form was proposed in order to unify the buildings interior, at the same time anchoring it firmly into the expanses of the Golden Gate Park. The cladding material proposed for the de Young’s exterior façade was copper, a natural material that would turn green over time and blend in with the surroundings. The architects design also had a tower which was asymmetrical and twisting from where one could view the city and the park. A decision was made to retain certain features of the old de young Museum - the sphinxes, the pool of enchantment, the original tress and to incorporate them into the new design. Therefore a sense of nostalgia does exist in the buildings surrounding environment.
What appeared promising about Herzog & de Meuron was attributed to their Swiss background. Architectural critics endowed them with attributes commonly ascribed to Swiss architecture in the 20th century namely: efficiency, concern for quality and correctness, and a sense of the suitable. (Riley,T.; Introduction, Architectures of Herzog & de Meuron, 1995). Their architectural style did not fit in with any of the architectural styles of their time and was fascinating in the way their style accommodated conventionally defined opposites: minimalism and seriousness, structure and cosmetics, rigor and playfulness, rationality and mystery.
Their style borrowed from modernism and yet deviated from it in spirit. As observed by Terence Riley in his book :Architectures of Herzog & de Meuron, that their practice of combining clear, opaque, and translucent glazing creates an atmosphere of mystery, defies principles of transparency fundamental to Miesian modernism. Hence they were able to play out themes borrowed from Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier, the giants of modernism, and from American minimalism without it constraining their other objectives.
Their ideology was at the opposite end of the postmodern historicism spectrum as they did not practice the limitations of postmodernist referentiality that was present in the United States, while still possessing reference and decoration in their work. “Postmodernism was not our agenda”- Jacques Herzog quoted in Ursprung, Herzog& de Meuron: National History. Herzog& de Meuron approached their work on the De young as in other cases with confidence, seriousness and a desire to please as their work had to overcome a cultural resistance to admiring architecture that was unapologetically beautiful. What critics read as paradoxes or tensions in Herzog& de Meuron’s work, impressed them because it gave them something to think about. By using subtle color, decoration and mystery they...