Architecture is Merciless

Jacques Herzog, from a lecture at Columbia University, May 13, 2008

This past August, Herzog & de Meuron’s Beijing Olympic Stadium became the site of the most widely broadcast media event of the year. The stadium assumed a public image that few buildings can hope to achieve, becoming a highly recognizable icon around the world overnight. It was a demonstration of architecture in the public domain, an image freed from authorial control to be appropriated for a variety of uses. Its circulation was facilitated by television coverage, magazines, blogs and Flickr streams, as well as by advertisements for Coca Cola, among others. Yet the international attention lagged behind the profusion of its image in China, where long before the opening ceremony the popularity of the building was attested by bird’s nest toys, cakes, homemade models, hats and billboards. Jacques Herzog presented these images at a lecture at Columbia University in May 2008 in which he discussed his hope that the public embrace of the building would continue after the games.

‘Of course, we would love everyone to say how great the stadium is, but in the end we’re only interested in what people do with the building after we’re finished. It isn’t open yet, so we don’t know if it’ll work, but we’re pretty sure it will work because of the way they’ve embrace it – all these advertisements, toys, and gimmicks– tells me it will work. A building survives because people love it and care for it, not because someone tells them that it’s a “great building”, but because they embrace it and almost swallow it whole. We’ve been very fortunate in the past, for instance with the Tate, which is very success ful as a public space. But it could have been just the opposite – people might have found it too monumental or too stupid or just not liked it, but it works and they use it. That’s what we try to leave for the public.’

‘A building can be made out of glass or paper, but if people love it and care for it, it’ll last longer than if it were built from stone. What the building means to people isn’t something I can dictate as an architect; neither is how they will use it or how its existence is justified. That’s all ridiculous and ideological, just advertisements and PR and we’re not interested in that. Architecture is merciless: it is what it is, it works or doesn’t, and you can clearly see the difference. Sometimes it works even if it’s stupid and ugly, and sometimes it works if it’s nice and beautiful. Of course we try to combine all these things, but you never know. There’s always the risk that we may fail.’











Content Management
Beijing Olympic Stadium