Atelier Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor. Photo by © Dominik Gigler

By Martin Søberg

Impeccable consideration for the details of construction make the buildings designed by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor appear as shrines celebrating a heightened sense of bodily and mental awareness. His houses stand out against their surrounding contexts, whether urban environments or natural landscapes, as statements of formal clarity.

To Zumthor (born 1943), architecture is principally about construction. He is concerned with the fundamental challenge of how to connect and assemble materials, how to merge or contrast. In line with this attitude, one may localize a sensitivity stemming from his early training as a cabinetmaker in his fathers Basel workshop: Zumthor’s buildings adhere to the precision and care for detail required when crafting an exquisite piece of furniture, fit for the human body, demonstrating knowledge of its material, and present in space as a an object fashioned for our attention.

Having worked as a conservationist architect provides Zumthor with a profound sense of materials, which he combines with a distinguished sense of clarity and unity. His architecture sparks from direct engagement with the world, with reality; it is almost visceral in its awareness of situated being.

Gently guided from one room to another, we may experience the smoothness of highly polished concrete floors, the lightness of golden curtains, or the softness of seats in tight leather upholstery. It testifies to Zumthor’s concern not only for the visual but also for the acoustic, tactile, and even olfactory aspects of architecture.

Contrary to many of his contemporaries, he dares speak of beauty, which might define him as a romantic. However to assess his architecture as convoluted is to neglect his consciousness of societal and cultural forces. A certain attitude of pragmatism, relating to what is at hand – which materials, which landscapes, which fragments – informs his personal poetics of presence through the creation of atmospheric experiences of space.

Most of Zumthor’s projects are to be found in the German speaking countries; yet the uniqueness of Zumthor’s architecture is reflected by worldwide accolades. He received the Carlsberg Architecture Prize in 1998, the Praemium Imperiale in 2008, is the 2009 Pritzker Prize laureate and winner of the 2013 RIBA Royal Gold Medal.

See also:  Peter Zumthor’s proposal for a new LACMA