Peter Zumthor

I wanted to write this blog about one of my favorite architects Peter Zumthor. Zumthor is known for his choice of materials and the manner in which they are processed. He likes to maximum express the qualities of space, by carefully selecting the materials and room layouts. Zumthor’s buildings excel in the sophisticated texture of the materials, the play of light and the visible handicraft. I want to show you three of his designs in which you can see his vision and his qualities.

The Therme Vals

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I first came in touch with this architect when I saw a documentary about Therme Vals during my first year at the study Interior Architecture in Utrecht. I was impressed by the complexity and yet the simplicity of his work, it is all thought through. It is built over the only thermal springs in the Graubunden Canton in Switzerland, The Therme Vals is a hotel and spa in one which combines a complete sensory experience. The idea was to create a form of cave or quarry like structure. Working with the natural surroundings the bath rooms lay below a grass roof structure half buried into the hillside. The Therme Vals is built from layer upon layer of locally quarried Valser Quarzite slabs. This stone became the driving inspiration for the design, and is used with great dignity and respect.

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The combinations of light and shade, open and enclosed spaces and linear elements make for a highly sensuous and restorative experience. The underlying informal layout of the internal space is a carefully modelled path of circulation which leads bathers to certain predetermined points but lets them explore other areas for themselves. “The meander, as we call it, is a designed negative space between the blocks, a space that connects everything as it flows throughout the entire building, creating a peacefully pulsating rhythm. The perspective is always controlled. It either ensures or denies a view. The fascination for the mystic qualities of a world of stone within the mountain, for darkness and light, for light reflections on the water or in the steam saturated air, pleasure in the unique acoustics of the bubbling water in a world of stone, a feeling of warm stones and naked skin, the ritual of bathing – these notions guided the architect. Their intention to work with these elements, to implement them consciously and to lend them to a special form was there from the outset.

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Bruder Klaus Field Chapel

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The bruder klaus chapel is a good example of purely the use of materials. There is no function in this building, just inner peace, silence and reflection. Through the use of the materials and the shape of the building, it becomes even a bit mysterious. Bruder Klaus Field Chapel all began as a sketch, eventually evolving to become a very elegant yet basic landmark in Germany’s natural landscape. The design was constructed by local farmers who wanted to honor their patron saint, Bruder Klaus of the 15th century.

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The most interesting aspects of the church are found in the methods of construction, beginning with a wigwam made of 112 tree trunks. Upon completion of the frame, layers of concrete were poured and rammed atop the existing surface, each around 50cm thick. When the concrete of all 24 layers had set, the wooden frame was set on fire, leaving behind a hollowed blackened cavity and charred walls. Gaze is pulled up by way of obvious directionality, to the point where the roof is open to the sky and night stars. This controls the weather of the chapel, as ran and sunlight both penetrate the opening and create an ambience or experience very specific to the time of day and year.

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Kolumba Museum

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Situated in Cologne, Germany, the museum  houses the Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s collection of art which spans more than a thousand years.   Zumthor’s design delicately rises from the ruins of a late-Gothic church, respecting the site’s history and preserving its essence. Zumthor, consistently mindful of the use of the materials, and specifically their construction details, has used grey brick to unite the destroyed fragments of the site.   These fragments include the remaining pieces of the Gothic church, stone ruins from the Roman and medieval periods. The materiality plays such an important role in the overall design, and Zumthor, known for taking his time to develop projects, searched quite a while for the perfect material.

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The facade of grey brick integrates the remnants of the church’s facade into a new face for the contemporary museum. Articulated with perforations, the brick work allows diffused light to fill specific spaces of the museum.  As the seasons change, the mottled light shifts and plays across the ruins, creating a peaceful ever-changing environment. The museum includes 16 different exhibition rooms and, at the heart of the building, a secret garden courtyard – a quiet and secluded place for reflection.

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Parts of the text from archdaily.

Photographs: Hélène Binet
Architect: Peter Zumthor

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