The following is an essay that originally appeared in Australian Design Review as "Beyond the Wall, the Floor." In it, Michael Holt and Marissa Looby describe the evolution of Herzog and de Meuron's work. Using numerous examples of recent projects (such as VitraHaus and 56 Leonard Street), they point out that Herzog and de Meuron have, increasingly, relied on the floor slabs of their buildings to suggest the building’s shape. By removing the façade’s prominence in favor of a more suggestive way of creating mass, they have turned their original design signature on its head.
Simple adjustments, slight alterations, subtle illusions. These are not tagline descriptions of the 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach project, or a synopsis for a body of work. Instead they operate as retroactively projecting the course of professional development in the works of Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron. The practice is known, from its earliest built projects, as a firm who produced artistically driven facade treatments where the vertical plane — the ‘nominal façade’ — would define form through the visually stimulating surface or skin. As the practice has evolved, it is argued here, they have crafted a new strategy: the horizontal plane as vertical facade generator.
In its progression the practice has deviated from facade ornamentation and fabrication towards the removal of the facade altogether; allowing for the floor plate — as a visual element — to operate as inadvertent facade and thus doubling its structural and visual importance. The placing of floor plates becomes the force creating the form – the ‘inverted structural skin’. The stripped back architectural form does not remove the facade, but removes the idea of a facade, paradoxically creating a building mass almost by default.