Spotlight: Peter Zumthor


The Therme Vals. Image © Fernando Guerra | FG+SG

The Therme Vals. Image © Fernando Guerra | FG+SG

Known for his sensuous materiality and attention to place, 2009 Pritzker Laureate Peter Zumthor (born April 26, 1943) is one the most revered architects of the 21st century. Shooting to fame on the back of The Therme Vals and Kunsthaus Bregenz, completed just a year apart in 1996 and 1997, his work privileges the experiential qualities of individual buildings over the technological, cultural and theoretical focus often favored by his contemporaries.


Peter Zumthor at the Steilneset Memorial. Image © Andrew Meredith

Peter Zumthor at the Steilneset Memorial. Image © Andrew Meredith

As a teenager, Zumthor’s first job was as an apprentice to a carpenter, and after studying architecture in his native Basel and then in New York, he worked as a conservation architect in Graubünden. Both of these early jobs gave him experience of craft construction and a delicate understanding of materials, and indeed in a 2001 profile in Vanity Fair, Paul Goldberger describes how “all of his architecture has the qualities a great cabinetmaker brings to his work: it is precise, and its glory lies in the perfection of its details and in the excellence of its materials.”


Kunsthaus Bregenz. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/heyitschili/4163419615'>Flickr user heyitschili</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/'>CC BY-ND 2.0</a>

Kunsthaus Bregenz. Image © <a href='https://www.flickr.com/photos/heyitschili/4163419615'>Flickr user heyitschili</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/'>CC BY-ND 2.0</a>

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011. Image © John Offenbach

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011. Image © John Offenbach

Zumthor’s style of architecture perhaps epitomizes the principles of phenomenology, a belief in the primacy of sensory and experiential qualities in architecture that is inspired by the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. As such, Zumthor believes that in order to truly understand a building it must be experienced in person, and therefore rarely courts media publicity for his projects.


Bruder Klaus Field Chapel. Image © Aldo Amoretti

Bruder Klaus Field Chapel. Image © Aldo Amoretti

He also does little to seek new projects, resulting in far fewer projects than architects of comparable renown, and works out of a small studio in a village in the Swiss Alps. All of this has earned him a near-mythical reputation as something between a hermit and a sage—though it is worth noting that some have questioned this interpretation, arguing that Zumthor has carefully crafted this persona just as many other famous architects have cultivated theirs.


Steilneset Memorial. Image © Andrew Meredith

Steilneset Memorial. Image © Andrew Meredith

The Therme Vals. Image © Fernando Guerra | FG+SG

The Therme Vals. Image © Fernando Guerra | FG+SG

Regardless, his work has had a resounding impact on the world of architecture. His buildings are mysterious and enticing but show no signs of style or formal preconceptions. His concern is with context, experience, and materiality, not aesthetic. Perhaps this is his most significant contribution to architecture: a truly meaningful architecture of place and experience.


Saint Benedict Chapel. Image © Felipe Camus

Saint Benedict Chapel. Image © Felipe Camus

Kolumba Museum. Image © Jose Fernando Vazquez

Kolumba Museum. Image © Jose Fernando Vazquez

Check out all of Zumthor’s work featured on ArchDaily via the thumbnails below, and more coverage below those:

Peter Zumthor, Pritzker 2009 Laureate

Peter Zumthor awarded RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2013

Peter Zumthor: Seven Personal Observations on Presence In Architecture

Multiplicity and Memory: Talking About Architecture with Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor: “There’s Nothing I’m Not Interested In”

Peter Zumthor’s Therme Vals Through the Lens of Fernando Guerra

Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel Through the Lens of Aldo Amoretti

The Noble Simplicity of Peter Zumthor’s Allmannajuvet Zinc Mine Museum

Royal Gold Medal 2013 Lecture: Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor lecture at the Centre Georges Pompidou

A Capsule of “Almost-Forgotten History”: Surface Magazine Visits Peter Zumthor’s Allmannajuvet Zinc Mine Museum

How Peter Zumthor and His Protégé Gloria Cabral Built a Connection Beyond Language

A Photographer’s Journey Through Zumthor Valley

Video: Bach Comes to Life within the Walls of Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Chapel

New Renderings Show Major Changes to Zumthor’s LACMA Redesign

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