Pomerol, Herzog & de Meuron

Pomerol, Herzog & de Meuron by Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine
BêkaPartners, 2013
Book: Hardcover, 140 pages
DVD: All-Region PAL, 58 minutes

One of the most important buildings in the rise of the studio of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron is the Dominus Winery in California's Napa Valley, completed in 1998. The project—a long and low punctured rectangular box made of local basalt stone gabions—catapulted them from eccentric Swiss architects working on the German border in and around their hometown of Basel to eccentric Swiss architects working on the international stage. Winning the Pritzker Prize in 2001 certainly helped, but envisioning that prize without the winery is impossible. Sure, the duo won the competition for the high-profile Tate Gallery in London a few years before completing the winery, but Dominus illustrated to everybody how the architects could find solutions ideally suited to a building's program and place without ever apparently repeating themselves.

Little known is the fact Herzog & de Meuron continued to work with Christian Moueix, the winemaker and their client at Dominus, on further projects. One of the completed projects is a Refectory in Pomerol, France, the transformation and expansion of a building for grape pickers, with some office space and other functions for the winery. While the building for the Dominus Winery is about the fermentation and other processes behind the porous walls, the building in Pomerol is about the people who pick the grapes and what they do during the one week of work and partying. The building and its use is documented by filmmakers Ila Bêka and Louise Lemoine in their second of the five-part "Living Architecture" series (Koolhaas Houselife is the first). In the film and companion book they do a great job of capturing what takes place in the refectory, while picking up on how the architects managed to creatively address what happens in the space via the words and actions of the people in the film (not the architects themselves).

A more typical presentation of the architecture might focus on the contrast between the old and new building; the form of Herzog & de Meuron's addition (the way it reaches out from the old building toward the vineyards is apparent in this aerial); the sculpted shape of the space; and the way the large window frames the vineyards beyond. While the film picks up on these things through its visuals, the action and words focus on the people who spend one week to toil in the vineyards—picking and carrying grapes—and then let loose at night when the refectory is set up for meals and parties. What comes across subtly in this study of a process and event is how Herzog & de Meuron's design is catered to the meals (the long space is good for two long tables), the parties (the space between the tables is used for conga lines and other things), the music (a curtain helps with the sound bouncing off the faceted surfaces, as does felt underneath the tables), and even the staff (their hand prints oxidize the doors, leaving their personal and accumulative marks on the architecture).

It's great to see an overlooked and relatively insignificant building by two of the most well-known architects practicing today given such a treatment. Dominus Winery may have been a more obvious choice for an architecture documentary, but only for one focused on design and form, not one about the people that make a building come alive.

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