Therme Vals, by rucativava

Peter Zumthor: a craftsman of architecture

16th April 2009, Comments 0 comments

Profile of the Swiss architect and the 2009 winner of the Pritzker Prize.

GENEVA - You might describe Swiss architect Peter Zumthor as a craftsman, or as he once described himself, an author-architect.

Not one to rush through his buildings projects, Zumthor is known for taking time to study details and get the materials right.

"I never give the go-ahead for anything until I have the feeling that it is right, which is perhaps rather more the mentality and approach of a composer of a string quartet or an author of a book," he once said in an interview with Credit Suisse's e-magazine.

"It would be fair to say that I am a distinctive author-architect and so not the right choice for people who treat architecture simply as a service."

Bergen Museum, by rory

Commissions by the corporate world, which usually demands speed, are therefore absent from his projects.

Rather, many of his buildings are local housing projects, or religious or cultural structures, such as the Bruder-Klaus Kapelle in Germany which was commissioned and constructed by local farmers.

The chapel, built with layers of concrete, attracted architecture pilgrims and international acclaim since its completion in 2007.

It is for these perfectly crafted buildings that Zumthor became one of the most important architects in Switzerland.

Over his career, he also won a series of awards.

Among the most prestigious was Japan's Praemium Imperiale for top artists worldwide, which he won in 2008, and most recently the top architecture prize Pritzker.


Born 1943 in the northern Switzerland's Basel, the son of a cabinet-maker was an apprentice at his father's workshop before training in design and architecture.

In 1968, Zumthor became an architect at eastern Swiss canton Graubuenden's Department Preservation of Monuments.

In 1979, he started his own practice in Haldenstein, Graubuenden, where he is still based.

Several of his works are located in eastern Switzerland. His style is minimalist and sensitive to the local environment, an approach embodied in Therme Vals, which is among his best-known projects.

A thermal spa set against the sloping Graubuenden mountains, Therme Vals looks simple and unassuming from the exterior. But it was built with 60,000 precisely cut and uniformly stacked quartz stones mined from the region.

Zumthor explained his concept on the spa's website, "Mountain, stone, water - building in the stone, building with stone, into the mountain, building out of the mountain, being inside the mountain - how can the implications and the sensuality in the association of these words be interpreted, architecturally?

"The whole concept was designed by following up these questions; so that it all took form step by step."

Text: AFP / Expatica 2009

Photos: Therme Vals photo by rucativava, Ocular photo by seier+seier+seier, Bregenz Museum by roryrory, blueprint photo by .pep, all on Flickr

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