By Jakob Harry Hybel
Peter Zumthor’s ‘Buildings and Projects 1985-2013’ is the first comprehensive monograph on Zumthor’s work for more than a decade and a half. Incidentally – albeit not surprisingly – it was well worth the wait. This gorgeous five-volume Leviathan of a book set convincingly connects the dots in the exceptional oeuvre of a master of craftsmanship and atmosphere.
There are a number of reasons why this release has taken such a long time to see the light of day. Firstly, if there is one thing Peter Zumthor is known for it’s taking his time with his projects. Over the course of his three-decade-long career, he has completed around two dozen buildings – strikingly few compared to many of his peers. This is, in no small measure, due to the fact that Zumthor is notoriously detail-oriented. Beginning his career as a carpenter, all of his projects resemble the work of a great cabinetmaker: its greatness lies in the perfection of its details and in the quality of its materials.
Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Zumthor has always been extremely hesitant towards publishing graphic representations of his own work. Heavily inspired by Heidegger’s phenomenological theories, Zumthor believes that architecture needs to be experienced first-hand, as images cannot convey the tactility and atmosphere of a building.
So what then, is the result of this long creation process?
The five volumes are edited by one-time Zumthor-employee Thomas Durisch – under the watchful supervision of Zumthor, no doubt – and as you might expect, the content is extremely well-organized. You instinctively know that no line nor letter on these 850 pages have avoided careful scrutiny.
Each volume covers a period of 4-8 years of Zumthor’s career and the projects are presented chronologically, with built work right alongside projects that never left the drawing board. Generally, a lot of effort seems to have gone into the process of selecting exactly the right amount of material, it would take to adequately represent each project. Again, no image seems redundant, which is an achievement in and of itself. Slightly more weight is given to some of Zumthor’s more well-known buildings such as the Therme Vals and the Kolumba Museum in Cologne, but otherwise the the featured projects are on an equal footing.
Throughout the five volumes, the way in which the images are framed on the pages, sometimes solitary with plenty of white space, sometimes spanning an entire spread, works exceptionally well in creating a specific narrative about each project.
|As an architect I am anthor. I do not want to find forms for content that leaves me no room to do any to do any thinking on my own and that I cannot influence in any way. I want to contribute to working out and formulating the content of my buildings.|
The real treat of this collection is without question the texts. Each project is accompanied by a short, essay-style text written by Zumthor himself specifically for this release, in which he muses on how the project came about, recounts his memories of the process, as well as his thoughts on the overall architectural concept. All in a style and tone which will seem very familiar to anyone having read any of Zumthor’s past writings. Evocative but concise, truly a pleasure to read.
Overall, this exquisite, enlightening five-volume monograph is a testament to the virtue of taking one’s time, whether it be designing buildings – or the documentation of these.