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Peter Zumthor, of light and matter

The monograph, edited by VERLAG SCHEIDEGGER & SPIESS, is a complete compendium that goes through all the phases of evolution of Peter Zumthor, paying special attention to the projects that have consecrated the Genius, accurately illustrating over 40 buildings entirely designed by the Swiss Architect.

Peter Zumthor is, to date, one of the most important voices in the field of architecture.

His artistic training begins at home, in fact, he learns from his cabinetmaker father the first foundations of Art, which will consolidate through his studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule in Basel, his hometown.

The collaborations soon arrived and already in 1968, just two years after graduating from the Pratt Institute in New York began to collaborate with the Department for the Protection and Conservation of Monuments in the canton of Graubunden. The report, which will continue for almost a decade, sees him protagonist of interventions at various levels, dealing with restorations and dedicating himself to the study of different population centers of the region, designing its recovery.

1978 will be the turning point for Zumthor, who will open his first professional studio, launching his career and becoming a leading figure, recognized by critics as undisputed talent. Shortly after the opening of the studio, zumthor’s work will be greatly appreciated by international critics, especially thanks to some of his famous works, such as the expansion of the Churwalden school, in which his architectural practice takes shape, completely renewing the spaces entrusted to him for renewal.

The final consecration will come with the chapel of St. Benedict in Sumvitg, in the 1980s, in which Zumthor expresses his full potential, combining traditional elements with rigorous designs on a 1:1 scale, but above all demonstrating one of its main characteristics, which will accompany it throughout his professional life. Zumthor, in fact, will immediately begin to pay a manic attention to the details that characterize his projects, so much so that he himself will say later:

«The details, when they succeed happily, are not a decoration. They do not distract, they do not entertain, but they induce the understanding of the whole, to which they necessarily belong»

(Peter Zumthor, 2003)

The project activity, intensified during the 1990s, especially for foreign clients, is not the only one, it is precisely in that period, in fact, that Peter Zumthor will also begin his career as a lecturer, taking courses in the most important international architecture faculties.

Peter Zumthor and Matter

From the analysis of the corpus of projects available, emerges, from the beginning, the particular relationship of the Architect with matter. Immediately you can see, derived from the formation of historical restorer, the recurring attitude to the use of natural materials, often left in sight, modeled with care and expertise, with a kind of reverential respect of the natural curves of the elements chosen for its constructions.
Zumthor’s Architecture is a perfect example of a link between naturalness and minimalism, as demonstrated by the Kolumba Diocese Museum in Cologne, where the precision of the main building’s essential lines collide and the roughness of the stone that translates into an invitation to contemplation, creating an aura of historic solemnity in the heart of Cologne. The Swiss master manages to combine in an incessant dialogue the real and the enchantment of Art, origin of the whole and starting point in every design.

The Kolumba Museum, one of his most complex works, is representative of the relationship between the Architect and Architecture, in this case – but as in many of his other projects – interpreted through ethics and sensitivity, which have always distinguished him, completing the task of ordering the permanent collection of the museum, which in turn is an artistic path through different stages of natural matter declined over the centuries. From this point of view the study of the stone used for the construction is exemplary, in fact, it was chosen after years of study, trying to best interpret the soul of the place. The ideal solution was reached, a unique stone to be named Kolumbastein (in English, Kolumba stone), supplied to him by a Danish craftsman.

The museum is just one of many examples that dot the life of the Swiss Architect, able to build a building in perfect dialogue with what it houses, further enhancing the sense of intangible abstraction that you feel, already from the entrance.

From Matter to Light

The Cologne museum, which we mentioned earlier, contains other notes indicative of the special relationship between Peter Zumthor’s person and the museum project. The excavations, which began in the seventies, brought out an archaeological site of primary historical interest, and perhaps this was precisely what prompted the Architect to try his hand at this design, which already from the embryonic state condensed the modeling of matter, from the site to the construction, bringing to light not only the contents, but as already mentioned, the container.

Just as matter and the relationship with the surface are crucial in its practice, to obtain the usual elegance and architectural poetry, and also the materials chosen, according to never random combinations, addressed to the discovery of new spaces and volumes, light, in the same way, shapes the atmosphere, revealing the anatomy of the construction, freeing its vibration and researching that transcendence that connects the real to the imaginary.
Light, in this sense, plays a non-secondary role in the design and implementation of the Architect’s projects, which, in any project, does not hide, in any project, the spasmodic attention to the congruence of the lighting, as a keystone for its Architettura.La light, as said, becomes fundamental in the analysis of The Architectural Practice of Zumthor, considering it both as an element in support of the structure, but also as the center of the same structure. , at the same time tangent and parallel to the project.

The projects and the life of such a prolific and brilliant figure still arouse curiosity and interest, making Zumthor a real reference point for the entire modern architectural landscape, such as to be one of the few living artists to boast a dedicated monograph that traces all its educational and executive path, until recent years.

PETER ZUMTHOR 1985-2013. Buildings and Projects (5 Voll.), Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess, 2014:
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Translated into English by Gabriele Agus.