September 19, 2008
BLOOMINGTON, Ill.— Ask Joe Herzog what influences him as an architect, and his answer is simple – everything. “I am inspired by places I travel and people I meet. Architecture isn’t really a job for me. It’s a way of life. I feel like my whole life is research,” he said.
That life has earned Herzog, a 1998 Illinois Wesleyan graduate, accolades for his work. Now his alma mater is honoring him as well. Herzog has been named the 2008 IWU Robert M. Montgomery Outstanding Young Alumnus, and will be recognized during the University’s Homecoming activities October 3-5 on campus. The award is named for a 1968 alumnus and former IWU Alumni Director (1970-73). This award recognizes young alumni for their outstanding professional achievement or civic leadership.
Herzog is the principal architect and director of the [merz]project design studio in Phoenix, which he founded in 2004. Through his studio’s work, Herzog has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for designing the 2008 Home of the Year, and also received the AIA 2007 Sustainable Award, as well as the 2007 Valley Forward Award for Environmental Excellence. He was nominated for the AIA Young Architect of the Year Award and named to the Hot List of 100 Architects in the Southwest from Desert Living Magazine.
“A building is both shelter from the environment and for the environment,” said Herzog, who for years has been designing environmentally friendly designs in Phoenix for residential housing, governments and businesses. “As a global community, we are entering into a critical state. It’s up to every individual to make tough decisions.” When designing a building, Herzog says it is important to examine all aspects of its impact on the culture and community. “You have to look at the whole scope – being responsive to the social, political, environmental aspects. That’s what good architecture is.”
Herzog has taken the creative vision of [merz]project studio to an international stage. Projects include designing an International Center in Abuja, Nigeria, that houses a conference center and resort hotel, as well as the headquarters for the country’s Red Cross and the National Peace Forum. The studio will soon begin a new project with developers from Santiago, Chile. “It’s part of the drive of the studio to work in developing countries where you can see an instantaneous impact on people’s lives,” said Herzog. “So many countries are rapidly developing, and it is important for us to be part of that.”
The Herzog Family
Looking at his studio as part of the global community is natural to Herzog. From a young age, Herzog traveled with his parents, Tobey and Peggy Herzog, who are also Illinois Wesleyan graduates. Tobey Herzog is a professor with Wabash College in Indiana, and the family spent two years in London while he was on sabbatical. “I was in London at critical times – in second grade and my freshman year of high school,” said Herzog. “It stirred in me a desire to discover other cultures and ways of thinking.”
The Illinois Wesleyan award holds special meaning for Herzog, because his father was the recipient of the award in 1981. They are the first father-son recipients of the award. “My parents trusted me a lot growing up,” said Herzog. “Their confidence in me gave me the freedom to make my own choices.”
At Illinois Wesleyan, Herzog graduated with a major in international studies and a minor in art. “When I chose my major, it might not have seemed to have a lot to do with architecture, but in reality it has everything to do with architecture,” said Herzog. It was always part of Herzog’s plan to explore the ideas of architecture throughout the world.
Even the name of Herzog’s studio has international inspiration, based on the work of famed German artist Kurt Schwitters. Architecture is yet another form of art, said Herzog, who based his award-winning master’s thesis in 2000 at Arizona State University on the artist. “Schwitter’s work was all about finding the connection between all of art,” he said. Schwitter is known for finding the common link between all forms of art, from Dadaism to installation art. He referred to all of his projects with the made-up word “merz.” “If it was a sculpture, he would call it merz sculpture, a painting would be a merz painting because they were all a piece of the same puzzle,” said Herzog. “That idea of connectiveness is the basis of the studio, and we try to create architecture that expresses that.”
Herzog continues to gather inspiration with travels around the globe, often with his wife Marcie and their daughter. He has journeyed throughout Europe, Scandinavia, India, Japan and Africa. He plans to pursue another trip to Southeast Asia soon as well. “I think it’s important to take trips and step outside the fishbowl of life we often create for ourselves,” said Herzog. “We all look for the answers to the big questions in different ways, and I pursue mine through art and architecture in cultures different from ours.”
During Illinois Wesleyan’s Homecoming, Herzog will discuss his philosophy at a lecture titled “Architecture of the New: searching the spaces in between” at 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3 in Beckman Auditorium in The Ames Library on campus. He will receive the Robert M. Montgomery Outstanding Young Alumnus Award at the Alumni Awards Lunch at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 4 in the Shirk Center.
Contact: Rachel Hatch, (309) 556-3960