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Ford Vignale Lifestyle the view from the big window in a modern house

DESIGN TALK

PETER ZUMTHOR: MATERIAL MAN

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor is a source of inspiration for architects and designers around the world. Fans rave about his great craftsmanship, vast knowledge of materials and their properties, and incredibly creative use of those materials. His craftsmanship and his love for materials have also made him a source of inspiration for the Ford Vignale design team.

About Architecture

His statement about his architecture – and what all architecture should be – is simple, almost down-to-earth: When I start, my first idea for a building is with the material. I believe architecture is about that. It’s not about paper. It’s not about forms. It’s about space and material. Zumthor has always been refreshingly straightforward about the role of architecture and tends to dismiss attempts by journalists or academics to tie abstract intellectual notions to his work. This has of course a lot to do with his relatively humble background – he started as a carpenter apprentice.

It may also account for his strong local roots in the Swiss Canton of Graubünden. Despite his global reputation and many international commissions, to this day Zumthor has his studio in the tiny Swiss village of Haldenstein. Zumthor believes strongly that architecture is an emotional experience and that buildings should not be intellectualised about, but felt. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that throughout his career many of his most praised buildings have been not only located in the part of Switzerland where he grew up, but also designed to serve an integral role in those small communities. These include a primary school in Churwalden, an old people’s home in the Canton’s capital, Chur, the art museum in Chur, and the modest but wonderfully understated St Benedict’s Chapel, built in Sumvitg.

Ford Vignale Lifestyle Peter Zumthor

Zumthor’s Design

Many feel Zumthor developed his deep understanding of construction and sensitive use of different building materials during his first job as a conservationist architect, where he was working on the preservation of historical monuments. True or not, it is a quality that continues to inform his work to this day – as can be seen in one of his most prestigious current projects, the Zinc Mine Museum in Allmannajuvet, Norway. Allmannajuvet is a remote forested canyon along the river Storelva. In the late 19th century, it was the site of a large zinc mine and is today an annex of the regional museum. Zumthor’s design brings together at least three of the recurrent themes in his work: sensitivity to a site’s local historical significance, for the mine is a key part of local industrial heritage, and an unpretentious focus on the pragmatic.

Architecture as a Physical Experience

Zumthor’s emotional approach to projects also explains why he feels it’s crucial for him to become familiar with the site for a building during the planning stage. I don’t only think about the place. I visit it, because it’s a physical experience. This determination to ensure his buildings remain sensitive to their surroundings can be seen in one of Zumthor’s most famous international commissions, the Kunsthaus (Art Gallery) in Bregenz, Austria, a glass and concrete cube overlooking Lake Constance. He explains: “From the outside, the building looks like a lamp. It absorbs the changing light of the sky and the haze of the lake. It reflects light and colour… according to the angle of viewing, the daylight and the weather.”

Ford Vignale Lifestyle two modern buildings - art galleries
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