From Understated to Big Statement

With their new Allianz Arena in Munich, architects Herzog and de Meuron have firmly built up a global presence

Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron used to be known for understated buildings which made clever use of concrete and glass or natural materials such as stone. But it turns out the Basel-based partners, who have known each other since they were in kindergarten and have worked together since 1978, are quite capable of building structures that encompass the passion and joy of soccer.

Their $430 million Allianz Arena in Munich will be one of the major venues for the Fédération Internationale de Football Assn. (FIFA) World Cup. In fact, the Arena will be the setting for the opening game of the month-long tournament -- Germany vs. Costa Rica -- which kicks off on June 9.

The stadium itself is easily one of the most striking in sports: a steel skeleton covered in a membrane of 2,760 air cushions that give the 67,000-seat venue an unusual lightness.

COPPER SKIN

The project also underlines the degree to which Herzog & de Meuron have joined the champions league of global architects. Their work attracted attention as early as the 1980s, but until a few years ago most of their projects were realized within a few hundred kilometers of Basel.Then came projects such as the Tate Modern museum in London, a renovation of a power plant completed in 2000, which won the pair acclaim beyond the architecture cognoscenti and attracted ever larger and more important commissions. Now, in addition to prestige projects such as the new de Young Museum in San Francisco, Herzog & de Meuron are building the main stadium for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

Unusual facades are a hallmark of their work. They built a winery in Yountville, Calif., from local stone held together by wire mesh. The de Young Museum, meanwhile, is clad in a copper skin that will slowly change color over the next decade, eventually turning a shade of green that is intended to blend with the landscape. Stylized lettering covers the Information and Media Center at the Technical University of Cottbus in eastern Germany.

Herzog & de Meuron’s work is both eclectic and consistent. The de Young features sharply defined angles while the Media Center in Cottbus is a flowing, rounded structure. Yet each building is unmistakably Herzog & de Meuron -- and each project seems to increase the partners’ renown. The firm, which had fewer than 50 architects in the 1990s, now has almost 200 as well as branch offices in London, Munich, San Francisco, Barcelona, and Beijing. Soccer is known as "the beautiful game;" now it has a stadium to do it justice.