Swiss architect Peter Zumthor was presented with the 2013 Royal Gold Medal in February. Here he gives the 2013 Royal Gold Medal Lecture at the RIBA, taking as his theme Presence in Architecture. In this short film he talks to RIBA President Angela Brady and takes questions from the audience.
We visited Peter Zumthor – one of the world’s leading architects – in his studio in Switzerland. In this extensive and rare biographical video interview he tells the captivating story of his childhood, his studies in NYC and his parents’ strong influence.
Zumthor – who works from the small town of Haldenstein in Switzerland – likes being outside the big centres of the world, as it frees him of having to consider the opinions of his fellow colleagues: “If you work like an artist, you need your own separate space.” He does, however, also work well in the “anonymous sound” of a city, where it is also possible to find calm in “a protective ocean of sound.” There are, Zumthor feels, different kinds of silence, and finding one’s mental silence – being able to concentrate – is what is most important in order to work well.
“There’s nothing I’m not interested in.” Zumthor loves literature and music, but prides himself in taking an overall interest in different things, as it fuels him: “It’s a nourishing ground.” His constant appetite for learning gives him the tools to be able to understand whatever place or landscape he needs to work in, and being able to “feel a space” and having an idea how to react as an architect, is essential. When he designs his innovative architecture, Zumthor furthermore puts great emphasis on connecting the old with the new, rather than breaking with history. Likewise, he feels that all architects have a great social responsibility when it comes to creating buildings, which are both well crafted and sustainable.
Anything can be considered art as long as it’s done with personal devotion to the making of it, Zumthor argues: “I never decided to become an architect.” Starting out as an industrial designer, it was not until 1968 that he made the decision of becoming an architect and began participating in competitions, thinking to himself: “I can do this better.” As for the first competition he entered, he was kicked out in the first round – a pivotal experience that made him aware of the need to always improve.
Peter Zumthor (b. 1943) is a Swiss architect. Among his best-known projects are the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, the thermal baths in Vals in Switzerland, the Swiss Pavilion for Expo 2000 in Hannover (an all-timber structure intended to be recycled after the event) and the Kolumba Diocesan Museum in Cologne. Zumthor is the winner of several prestigious awards such as the 1998 Carlsberg Architecture Prize, the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture (1999), the Praemium Imperiale (2008), the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize and the 2013 RIBA Royal Gold Medal. He lives and works in Switzerland.
A two-minute animated voyage through some of the most iconic masterpices of modern architecture:
Ville Savoye by Le Corbusier, Rietveld Schröder House by Gerrit Rietveld, Farnsworth House by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Glass House by Philip Johnson and Fallingwater by Frank Lloyd Wright.
Rebuild by Design, an initiative of the Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force and HUD, addressed structural and environmental vulnerabilities that Hurricane Sandy exposed in communities throughout the region and developing fundable solutions to protect residents from future climate events. BIG Team's Big U is a vision for a protective system around Manhattan from West 54th street south to The Battery and up to East 40th street: 10 continuous miles of low-lying geography that comprise an incredibly dense, vibrant, and vulnerable urban area.
The Big U consists of multiple but linked design opportunities; each on different scales of time, size and investment; each local neighborhood tailoring its own set of programs, functions, and opportunities. Small, relatively simple projects maintain the resiliency investment momentum post-Sandy, while setting in motion the longer-term solutions that will be necessary in the future.
“The soul has more need for the ideal than the real,” says American architect Steven Holl, who here shares his organic approach to creating architecture that can potentially change people’s lives.
Architecture ”begins with a site and a circumstance, a situation and a programme” according to Holl. Therefore it should be reinvented for every situation instead of simply aiming for a signature style. Holl’s focus is thus on the place rather than on the need to strengthen a given brand, which seems prevalent in modern society.
The organic relation between everything, the intertwining of every element and material, including the light, is an important part of how Holl creates his architectural designs. “Architecture is about shaping space”, states Holl, and the experience of the architectural space should be pure and free of the conceptual strategies behind it – just as when you experience and appreciate music.
“The soul has more need for the ideal than the real,” he continues, explaining how it can be of utmost importance to break the rules and mentioning Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark as an example of how this can be done successfully and exceptionally.
Steven Holl (born 1947) is an American architect and watercolourist, who is world-renowned for his designs for e.g. the 2003 Simmons Hall at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the 2007 Bloch Building addition to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Missouri and the 2009 Linked Hybrid Complex in Beijing, China. Holl is the founder of Steven Holl Architects and also a tenured faculty member at Columbia University where he has taught since 1981. In 2001 Time Magazine named him America’s Best Architect, for ’buildings that satisfy the spirit as well as the eye’. He has been awarded the Praemium Imperiale Award (2014), the 2012 AIA Gold Medal, the 2010 Jencks Awards of the RIBA and the Alvar Aalto Medal (1998) among many others.
Steven Holl was interviewed by Jesper Bundgaard/Out of Sync in New York in 2014.
Camera and edit: Per Henriksen
Produced by: Out of Sync and Christian Lund
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2014