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Peter Zumthor
Therme Vals.jpg.jpg
Therme Vals, Switzerland
Personal information
Name Peter Zumthor
Nationality Swiss
Birth date 26 April 1943 (1943-04-26) (age 66)
Birth place Basel, Switzerland
Buildings Therme Vals
Kunsthaus Bregenz
Awards Pritzker Prize (2009)

Peter Zumthor (born 26 April 1943) is a Swiss architect and winner of the 2009 Pritzker Prize.


Early life

Zumthor was born in Basel, the son of a cabinet-maker. He apprenticed to a carpenter in 1958 and studied at the Kunstgewerbeschule in his native city starting in 1963.

He studied at Pratt Institute in New York in the 1960s. In 1968, he became architect for the Department for the Preservation of Monuments of the canton of Graubünden. This work on historic restoration projects gave him a further understanding of construction and the qualities of different rustic building materials. As his practice developed, Zumthor was able to incorporate his knowledge of materials into Modernist construction and detailing. His buildings explore the tactile and sensory qualities of spaces and materials while retaining a minimalist feel.


In 1998, Zumthor received the Carlsberg Architecture Prize for his designs of the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Bregenz, Austria and the Thermal Baths at Vals, Switzerland (see below).

Zumthor has taught at Southern California Institute of Architecture in Los Angeles, the Technical University of Munich, the Academy of Architecture Mendrisio, Università della Svizzera Italiana, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

In 1994, he was elected to the Akademie der Künste in Berlin. In 1996, he was made an honorary member of the Bund Deutscher Architekten (BDA). He won the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture in 1999.

Zumthor's work is largely unpublished in part because of his philosophical belief that architecture must be experienced first hand. His published written work is mostly narrative and phenomenological.

Currently, Zumthor works out of his small studio which he founded in 1979, in the town of Haldenstein, Switzerland. He enjoys playing tennis, good cigars, margaritas and jazz.

Zumthor and Heidegger

The Vals spa—famed among architects for evocative sequence of spaces and its exquisite construction details—presents intriguing correspondences between Heidegger’s writing and Zumthor’s architecture. Writing in his architectural manifesto, Thinking Architecture, Zumthor mirrors Heidegger’s celebration of experience and emotion as measuring tools. A chapter entitled “A way of looking at things” begins by describing a door handle:


I used to take hold of it when I went into my aunt’s garden. That door handle still seems to me like a special sign of entry into a world of different moods and smells. I remember the sound of gravel under my feet, the soft gleam of waxed oak staircase. I can hear the heavy front door closing behind me as I walk along the dark corridor and enter the kitchen[...].(1998:9)

Zumthor always emphasises the sensory aspects of the architectural experience. To him, the physicality of materials can involve an individual with the world, evoking experiences and texturing horizons of place through memory. He recalls places he once measured out at his aunt’s house through their sensual qualities. Here he echoes architectural practitioner and writer Juhani Pallasmaa who argues that, in a world where technologies operate so fast that sight is the only human sense which remains more immediately resonant (1996).

Zumthor’s Vals spa recounts the thinking he describes in his essay, making appeals to all the senses. The architect choreographs materials according to their evocative qualities. Flamed and polished stone, chrome, brass, leather and velvet were deployed with care to enhance the inhabitant’s sense of embodiment when clothed and naked. The touch, smell, and perhaps even taste of these materials were orchestrated obsessively. The theatricality of steaming and bubbling water was enhanced by natural and artificial light, with murky darkness composed as intensely as light. Materials were crafted and joined to enhance or suppress their apparent mass. Their sensory potential was relentlessly exploited with these tactics, Zumthor aimed to celebrate the liturgy of bathing by evoking emotions.


“Thinking Architecture”

In this book Peter Zumthor expresses his motivation in designing buildings that speak to our feelings and understanding in so many ways and that possess a powerful and unmistakable presence and personality. The book is illustrated throughout with color photographs by Laura Padgett of Zumthor's new home and studio in Haldenstein.

“To me, buildings can have a beautiful silence that I associate with attributes such as composure, self-evidence, durability, presence, and integrity, and with warmth and sensuousness as well; a building that is being itself, being a building, not representing anything, just being. The sense that I try to instil into materials is beyond all rules of composition, and their tangibility, smell, and acoustic qualities are merely elements of the language we are obliged to use. Sense emerges when I succeed in bringing out the specific meanings of certain materials in my buildings, meanings that can only be perceived in just this way in this one building. When I concentrate on a specific site or place for which I am going to design a building, when I try to plumb its depths, its form, its history, and its sensuous qualities, images of other places start to invade this process of precise observation: images of places I know and that once impressed me, images of ordinary or special places places that I carry with me as inner visions of specific moods and qualities; images of architectural situations, which emanate from the world of art, or films, theater or literature.”


Atmospheres is a poetics of architecture and a window into Peter Zumthor's personal sources of inspiration. In nine short, illustrated chapters framed as a process of self-observation, Peter Zumthor describes what he has on his mind as he sets about creating the atmosphere of his houses. Images of spaces and buildings that affect him are every bit as important as particular pieces of music or books that inspire him. From the composition and “presence” of the materials to the handling of proportions and the effect of light, this poetics of architecture enables the reader to recapitulate what really matters in the process of house design. In conclusion, Peter Zumthor has described what really constitutes an architectural atmosphere as "this singular density and mood, this feeling of presence, well-being, harmony, beauty...under whose spell I experience what I otherwise would not experience in precisely this way."

“Peter Zumthor Therme Vals” This is the only book-length study of this singular building, features the architect’s own original sketches and plans for its design as well as Hélène Binet’s striking photographs of the structure. Architectural scholar Sigrid Hauser contributes an essay on such topics as “Artemis/Diana,” “Baptism,” “Mikvah,” and “Spring”—drawing out the connections between the elemental nature of the spa and mythology, bathing, and purity.

Annotations by Peter Zumthor on his design concept and the building process elucidate the structure’s symbiotic relationship to its natural surroundings, revealing, for example, why he insisted on using locally quarried stone. Therme Vals’s scenic design elements, and Zumthor’s contributions to this book, reflect the architect’s commitment to the essential and his disdain for needless architectural flourishes. [1]

“Seeing Zumthor” Seeing Zumthor represents a unique collaboration between Zumthor and Swiss photographer Hans Danuser, containing Danuser’s images of buildings created by Zumthor. More than twenty years ago, in a milestone event of twentieth-century architectural photography, Danuser photographed, at Zumthor’s invitation, two buildings: the protective structure built for archaeological excavations in Chur and St. Benedict’s Chapel in Sumvitg. When first shown in exhibition, those photos ignited a lively debate that has been revived with a recent exhibition of Danuser’s photographs of Zumthor’s most famous work, the spa at Therme Vals. Seeing Zumthor collects these three important series of Danuser’s pictures and includes essays by leading art historians exploring the relationship between the two seemingly different disciplines or architecture and photography. [2]

Principal works


  • 1987 Auszeichnung guter Bauten im Kanton Graubüunden, Switzerland.
  • 1989 Heinrich Tessenow medal, Technische Universität Hannover, Germany.
  • 1991 Gulam, European wiid-glue prize.
  • 1992 Internationaler Architekturpreis für Neues Bauen in den Alpen, Graubünden, Switzerland.
  • 1993 Best Building 1993 award from Swiss tc's '10 vor '10, Graubünden, Switzerland.
  • 1994 Auszeichnung guter Bauten im Kanton Graubüunden, Switzerland.
  • 1995 International Prize for Stone Architecture, Fiera di Verona, Italy.
  • 1995 Internationaler Architekturpreis für Neues Bauen in den Alpen, Graubünden, Switzerland.
  • 1996 Erich-Schelling-Preis für Architektur, Erich-Schelling-Stiftung, Germany.
  • 1998 European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture (aka Mies van der Rohe Award) for Bregenz Art Museum.
  • 1998 Carlsberg Architectural Prize.
  • 2006 Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award.
  • 2006 Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture, University of Virginia.
  • 2008 Praemium Imperiale, Japan Arts Association
  • 2009 Pritzker Prize


  1. ^ From "Thinking Architecture" by Peter Zumthor, published by Birkhauser

External links



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