Graffiti, by Herzog & de Meuron

Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco, Jurez de la Frontera, Spain
Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco (Copyright Herzog & de Meuron)

Classic New York Graffit Tag from the 1970's
Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco (Copyright Herzog & de Meuron)

Also I could say ‘Tag, by Herzog & de Meuron’, but that would sound just too del.icio.us.

If you have read the recent double-issue of El Croquis about Herzog & de Meuron you’re already fully informed. If you haven’t, here it is.

In 2003 the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron won the competition for the ‘Ciudad de Flamenco’ in the city of Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain. It is a cultural center celebrating the Flamenco dance that originates in this now decaying city.

Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco, Jurez de la Frontera, Spain
Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco (Copyright Herzog & de Meuron)

Herzog & de Meuron composed the building as another walled garden in the historic city center, a city within the city. To level the appearance of the big building with that of the surrounding urban landscape the program is sunken into the ground, basically putting the ‘ground floor’ two levels into the ground at the whole site. Can a big building still be contextual? Rem Koolhaas doesn’t think so, but Herzog & de Meuron try otherwise: schizophrenic as it might be, honorable as it also might be.

The part of the building that floats onto the surface mirrors the morphology of the city. The lower parts echo the patterns of the domestic city courtyard architecture. The tower relates to the two towers of Alcazar and the tower of the cathedral, and demonstrates the presence of the building to the city.

Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco, Jurez de la Frontera, Spain
Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco (Copyright Herzog & de Meuron)

Zooming in on the building, the majestic concrete screens of the façade are an abstract custom pattern that is promiscuously inspired by the Gypsy tradition (of the Flamenco), the Arabic ornamentation (in southern Spain), and the contemporary patterns of rock culture (readable on tattoo’s, symbols, and emblems). That sounds amazingly diplomatic and professional.

Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco, Jurez de la Frontera, Spain
Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco (Copyright Herzog & de Meuron)

At the end however a pattern has just to be chosen. The current design seems to be composed of several custom and abstract ‘tags’ that are a transformation of New York graffiti tags from the 1970’s. Chosen because of its aesthetic performance, this reference is basically un-contextual. Technically the different tags are superimposed, rotated, thickened and otherwise parametrically modified so that a random-looking pattern emerges.

Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco, Jurez de la Frontera, Spain
Herzog & de Meuron - Ciudad de Flamenco (Copyright Herzog & de Meuron)

“An artificial and iconographical topography whose spirit draws on the traditions of the Gypsy world, the Arabic world, and contemporary everyday life and culture”, Herzog & de Meuron state.

Interestingly the Dutch writer and biologist Tijs Goldschmidt (in whose most recent book ‘De Eilandbaron’ I wrote a short story) recently published an article in the newspaper NRC Handelsblad in which he aligns graffiti culture with animal behavior. Animals mark their territory with a no. 1 or no. 2; graffiti artists, or representatives of a gang, mark their territory with ‘tags’. Just as the toughest ‘stallions’ have the respect of other males, a tag of a famous graffiti artist is respected and potentially conserved for years and years. Such a tag is just not overwritten by an inferior graffiti artist. Unless… someone, or a gang, overwrites the tag as a form of provocation. Just as the Icelandic horses stack their no. 2’s onto each other’s as a way of challenging their position in the hierarchy. In a way, Herzog & de Meuron do their no. 2 in Spain. They literally mark their territory.

Already in 2000 the Dutch architect Marc Maurer did some studies into incorporating graffiti into architecture with well-known ‘taggers’ Delta and Zedz. Unfortunately these installations were never built.

Marc Maurer in coorporation with Delta and Zedz - Graffiti architecture
Marc Maurer - Graffiti Studies (Copyright Maurer United)

Related: Ren, by Plot; Poem, by Waterstudio; T’s by Holl; Y, by NL, Blurred Trees

The project is added to the Representation and Architects pages.


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