Berggruen Institute Reveals Additional Details of Herzog & de Meuron-Designed Campus, Awards $1 Million Philosophy Prize

Located on a Los Angeles hilltop, the Institute compound by Herzog & de Meuron will be an intellectual mecca aimed at addressing pressing global issues.

Berggruen Institute Herzog de Meuron
Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron

Billionaire Nicolas Berggruen wants to build a monastery within the City of Angels. But rather than create a respite for monks, the investor intends on creating a mecca for scholars. And rather than cloisters, the project will be akin to a modern-day Acropolis, perched high above Los Angeles.

Designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the new facility will house the Berggruen Institute, an organization with the lofty aim of addressing global policy issues through philosophical thought. Yesterday, Berggruen and his think tank announced in New York that it has awarded its $1 million Prize for Philosophy & Culture to British moral philosopher Onora O’Neill. He also revealed more details about the building and its programming. 

Berggruen Institute Herzog de Meuron
Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron

If granted planning approval, the Berggruen institute will occupy a 447-acre site on a ridge in the Santa Monica Mountains–one of the largest undeveloped parcels in the city.

More from Metropolis

Why L.A.? Said the German-American philanthropist (who has earned a reputation as the “homeless billionaire” for his globe-trotting lifestyle) at a press conference in Herzog & de Meuron’s Public hotel, “New York is all built.”

The campus is oriented linearly along the spine of a hill. At the precipice, the architects situated the Institute’s primary building, an airy rectilinear structure organized around a central courtyard. The cast-in-place concrete structure will feature large horizontal openings, which will both contain timber inserts for conference and study rooms, as well as frame views to the city, the Pacific, and the surrounding mountains–an “Ed Ruscha moment,” as project director Robert Portnoff of the Paratus Group called it.

Seen in elevation, the low-lying structure is punctuated by two white spherical volumes (reminiscent of astronomical observatories) that will contain a conference room and a water tower. The compound will also include a scholar’s village, Berggruen’s personal residence, and several cottages. All will allow scholars to “think, live, convene, and to gather groups to think, discuss, and produce ideas,” said Berggruen.

Berggruen Institute Herzog de Meuron
Courtesy Herzog & de Meuron

But the mountaintop won’t be the sole site of the Institute; it also hopes to connect scholars to the city. Berggruen has enlisted Spanish firm Selgascano to renovate an existing building in L.A.’s MacArthur park neighborhood (renderings have not yet been unveiled) in the hope of creating a more stimulating atmosphere within an urban context. At the press conference in New York, the institute’s president Craig Calhoun likened the dynamic to “going to Princeton, but then going to Brooklyn–the center of the ferment.”

The goal is to break ground next year–provided the scheme receives a green light from the city and the neighborhood. “More than a few neighbors are wondering just what the heck we are doing with one of the last parcels of undeveloped land in Los Angeles,” Calhoun said, “So we are at the stage of securing the approvals and finalizing the design in response to comments on it.”

And the L.A. chapter is merely the beginning; the Institute is also working on establishing a sister center in Beijing.  

For now, said Berggruen of the Herzog & de Meuron design, “These are just renderings. In reality we hope it’s going to be even more beautiful.”  

Recent Projects