Pritzker Prize goes to Peter Zumthor

Niki May Young
Tuesday 14 Apr 2009

Swiss architect wins coveted award

50 years ago when Peter Zumthor was training as a cabinet maker it would have felt inconceivable that he would join the architectural elite to win the Pritzker Prize for Architecture. But at the age of 65, this remote possibility has become reality.

Established by the Pritzker family of Chicago through their Hyatt Foundation in 1979, the Pritzker Prize is often equated to the Nobel Prize for architecture honouring living architects with talent, vision and commitment producing significant and consistent contributions to humanity through architecture. Recipients of the award receive a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion which will be bestowed upon Zumthor at a ceremony on 29 May in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Previous winners of the award include Christian de Portzamparc, Richard Meier, Renzo Piano and Zaha Hadid.

Zumthor's humble beginnings in Switzerland have flavoured his work throughout his career. “For 30 years he has been based in the remote village of Haldenstein in the Swiss mountains, removed from the flurry of activity of the international architectural scene,” said the jury. “There, together with a small team, he develops buildings of great integrity –untouched by fad or fashion.”

Zumthor is the author of many outstanding yet modest buildings in Switzerland and beyond. Empathy for local culture and landscape is expressed in his architecture as a result of the direct integration of the community in his works. The Field Chapel in Eifel, Germany, was commissioned by farmer Hermann-Josef Scheidtweiler and his wife Trudel and largely constructed by them, with the help of friends, acquaintances and craftsmen on one of their fields above the village. The interior of the chapel room was formed out of 112 tree trunks, which were configured like a tent. In twenty four working days, layer after layer of concrete, each layer 50 cm thick, was poured and rammed around the tentlike structure.

Other works include Kolumba Art Museum of the Cologne Archdiocese, Swiss Sound Box, the Swiss Pavilion for Expo 2000 and Thermal Bath in Vals, Switzerland.

“In Zumthor’s skillful hands, like those of the consummate craftsman, materials from cedar shingles to sandblasted glass are used in a way that celebrates their own unique qualities, all in the service of an architecture of permanence,” reads the jury comments.

“The same penetrating vision and subtle poetry are evident in his writings as well, which, like his portfolio of buildings, have inspired generations of students. In paring down architecture to its barest yet most sumptuous essentials, he has reaffirmed architecture’s indispensable place in a fragile world. For all of these reasons, Peter Zumthor is the recipient of the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize.”

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