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Entering into the courtyard of the Royal Academy, I see that Joshua Reynolds is wearing a garland of flowers around his neck, a tradition going back to the 19th century, celebrating the annual Summer Exhibition.

I’m here at the London Society’s tour to see the Herzog & de Meuron exhibition at Burlington Gardens. For a Swiss practice, the architects have a wide-ranging UK portfolio from private residences to grand urban masterplans such as London Olympics 2012 in Stratford, planning for infrastructural projects such as Stamford Bridge Stadium and Liverpool Street Station in London.

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In addition, there’s One Park Drive, Canary Wharf, the first residential tower built by Herzog & de Meuron, crowned Development of the Year at the British Homes awards 2021. 

There’s also the Battersea Campus for the Royal College of Art in London. Last but not least, the Laban Dance Centre in Deptford, the largest purpose-built contemporary dance centre in the world.

But I’m here to find out more about the inner workings and creative thought processes of these architectural giants. And who could guide us better than Vicky Richardson, head of architecture at the Royal Academy and co-curator of the show.

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Her enthusiasm and admiration for Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron is obvious. “They grew up together, they were friends from primary school, growing up in Basel and they set up their practice together. We are really excited to host this major show which is part retrospective but mostly  focusing on their current work and future priorities,” she says. 

It's a fascinating insight into how buildings are constructed, from the dream stage to the construction stage. “Once we get into the show we will be totally immersed in another world.”

The exhibition features 400 objects which form the Herzog & de Meuron design process, with small-scale models and drawings as well as life-sized architectural mock-ups.

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The third room is dedicated to an as yet unfinished Institution of the Children’s Hospital in Zurich, with a completion date of 2024. 

There are drawings, a huge plan of the entire space (so vast it apparently takes four hours to download) and an augmented reality component, accessed via the app, where you can walk around the virtual hospital wards.

As Richardson says, “Herzog & de Meuron have taken on so many different projects. It’s difficult to sum up the architectural style. Their buildings are so diverse and so different. I would say they don’t have a signature style.”

The Herzog & de Meuron exhibition is on until 15 October 2023
The Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries 
Burlington Gardens