Peter Zumthor: Seven personal observations


Known for his superior design and unparalleled craftsmanship, the 2009 Pritzker Laureate and 2013 RIBA Gold Medal Award-winner, Peter Zumthor, was recently invited to speak at the School of Architecture in Tel Aviv University. In a lecture titled ‘Presence in Architecture – Seven Personal Observations’, Zumthor shared some of the inspirations behind his greatest projects, giving us insight into his poetic, intelligent (and some may say) ‘nearly divine’ mind.

1: Spring 1951

“[It] was a beautiful day. There was no school. It must have been early spring – I could smell it… I remember myself running as a boy, and I had this lightness and elegance which I don’t have anymore.”

Zumthor, born the son of a cabinet-maker in 1943, began by recounting a seminal experience from his childhood: “I didn’t know it then, but as an old man now, looking back, I realise this was my first experience of presence.” As he defined it: “Presence is like a gap in the flow of history, where all of [a] sudden it is not past and not future.”

Zumthor Studio. Image © Felipe Camus

Zumthor Studio. Image © Felipe Camus

How can presence be translated or achieved in architecture? This question is a key motive in Zumthor’s atelier in the Swiss region of Graubünden. Founded in 1979, his home-based studio is located in the valley of the Rhein, where many of his seminal works – ranging from small-scale projects, such as home renovations and village chapels, to large-scale, monumental museums – have been built. Zumthor purposefully maintains his atelier in this humble, remote location in order to ensure his experience of ‘presence’. “Every once in a while, I get this feeling of presence. Sometimes in me, but definitely in the mountains. If I look at these rocks, those stones, I get a feeling of presence, of space, of material.”

2: Like a Tree

“I look at a tree and the tree doesn’t tell me anything.” A tree, according to Zumthor, is an object worthy of his fascination and admiration, due to its lack of presumption. “The tree does not have a message; the tree does not want to sell me something. The tree won’t say to me, ‘Look at me, I am so beautiful, I am more beautiful than the other trees.’ It’s just a tree – and it’s beautiful.” To him, a tree is a pure being of obsolete presence; in his simple terms: “Nothing special – incredibly powerful.”

Read the full article here



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