Royal Institute of British Architects gold medal goes to Dutchman, champion of adaptability

From the Royal Institute of British Architects Gold Medal 2012 citation for Herman Hertzberger: "For the Dutch architect Herman Hertzberger the structure of a building is not an end in itself, it is literally the framework for the life that goes on inside it, a life that is determined by its users. "Herman Hertzberger was one of the leaders in the movement away from functionalism in the mid-20th century.  Influenced by semiotics, linguistics and structural rationalism, he sought to identify an underlying order in a building's construction that is not related purely to its function.  He saw this as analogous to the deep grammatical structures in language explored by Claude Lévi-Strauss; just as grammar is brought to life in speech, so the fundamental tectonic order in buildings is given social meaning by the way in which they are inhabited.

"Structurally, Hertzberger's buildings are characterised by a clear articulation of the supporting lattice. This creates a series of cellular zones within which minor elements like sills, benches and thresholds are used to prompt human occupation.  Throughout his architecture Hertzberger employs a grammar of elements that enables people to define their own habitat within the structure.  What Hertzberger wants is an architecture that can be interpreted and used by the inhabitants in many ways.  For him all buildings should adapt themselves to different needs.  His architecture permits a flexible use and can always accommodate the unexpected.

"His architecture contain lessons that have nothing to do with representation or image-making, but that have much to do with the manner he perceives the way people live together.  His debt to anthropology is manifested in his particular concern for these defined territories which are both joined and separated by liminal or threshold elements.  These 'in-between' pieces set up a dialogue between adjacent spatial orders, as well as encourage social interaction.  The stairs and corridors are not isolated elements, but are essential to the life that fills the building; to see and being seen are the first steps towards a more satisfactory and fulfilling existence.

"He is an advocate of the open society in which encounters are not planned, but occur in a spontaneous, natural manner.  His architecture facilitates such a use and stresses more the sight and contact lines than the representational character of the facades.  For him architecture is not only a social activity, but should also stimulate the user into finding his or her place in society.  It has to receive meaning and it has to be able to give meaning.

"In doing this he admits our changing needs, but insists on the continuity of deeper patterns of dwelling, and sets architects the challenge of finding constructional rhythms to frame the fundamental patterns of human inhabitation.  This was not only a powerful criticism of early Modernism's linking of form to use, but it also set contemporary architecture a stern challenge."  Full citation here.