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Dec 21, 2005

I've found some buildings that look better in reality than in rendering -- and they are all designed by one firm. The firm is Herzog & de Meuron, the Swiss architects, whose de Young Museum in San Francisco opened recently. What struck me about their work, as it relates to a discussion of architectural rendering is that many of their buildings look, well, dull in renderings -- and they even look dull in models. But consistenly, Herzog & de Meuron's built work is better than the renderings. That is rare in contemporary architecture, especially in architecture where the renderings seem to rely more and more on computer tricks and lighting for dramatic effect. It was the architect Adolf Loos who, in 1908, set us on a difficult and publicly unpopular course through the 20th century, declaring Ornament a Crime -- and it was interpreted by Modernists to include any ornament, and anyone who chooses to decorate their designs was suspect for most of the 20th century, but now, perhaps the tide is turning? Herzog and de Meuron are breaking this century-long trend and in many buildings celebrate ornament. Is this their secret to rendering reality? Photograph is a backlit panel of the perforated copper screens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Other Herzog & de Meuron buildings to look up: the Ricola Production and Storage Building; the Library of Eberswald University; the Tate Modern; the Dominus Winery. For more information about the new de Young Museum, visit And for some designs for which I am guilty, visit

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Photograph is a backlit panel of the perforated copper screens at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

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