Peter Zumthor: A place and a task, that’s all i have

After his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker, Peter Zumthor studied interior design at the Schule für Gestaltung in Basel and architecture and interior design at the Pratt Institute. From 1968 he worked as a construction consultant and settlement surveyor at the Canton of Graubünden. He has taught at SCI-ARC in Los Angeles, at TU Munich and in Harvard. Peter Zumthor received the Pritzker Prize in 2009.

Peter Zumthor: A place and a task, that’s all i have

When you let different photographers take pictures of your buildings, is it about uncovering different aspects of your buildings and alternative points of view?

I don’t really have an objective there. I am happy for a building to exist. I myself don’t need pictures. People request photos from me for exhibitions and catalogues. And to a certain degree, I think I have to meet these requests. People will think me an unapproachable weirdo if I refuse their requests completely. There is a legitimate interest to view my buildings.

And the question that follows from this is: Do I feel understood when I see what a colleague makes of my buildings in his art? He might have a different eye for things than myself, but I still have the feeling that what he sees is somehow connected to my work. That’s the beauty of it, and that’s the kinds of picture I like to release. But when you’re on site you will see something totally different than for example in Hans Danuser’s photography.

So photography exists independently — or can it also be a means of promotion?

I only use pictures for promotional purposes when I’m still in the design phase. Then I’ll create incredibly dramatic composites of our models to try and seduce people — so that I can get to build these designs. There is an old picture of a stone-and-water model of the Therme Vals. People saw it and thought the spa had already been built. The texture of the stone wasn’t to scale, but thanks to the material the illusion was perfect. I don’t need pictures anymore afterwards. Even though it can be interesting to take another look at some pictures after a certain time. Some pictures have become icons. Evidently, they seem to have yielded something about the character of the particular building.

The Kolumba (The Kolumba («Diocesan Museum»), Cologne, Germany, 2007 © Roland Halbe

The pavilion is a timber framed structure covered in gauze and painted over with a black adhesiveThe pavilion is a timber framed structure covered in gauze and painted over with a black adhesive © Roland Halbe

A narrow corridor circulates the perimeter of the building between the facade and the garden, which was conceived by P. Zumthor as a medieval “hortus conclusus”. The garden, designed by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf, is filled with flowers and shrubsA narrow corridor circulates the perimeter of the building between the facade and the garden, which was conceived by P. Zumthor as a medieval «hortus conclusus». The garden, designed by Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf, is filled with flowers and shrubs © Roland Halbe

Main images © Gerry Ebner, Jiri Havran