Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor (Basel, April 26, 1943) is a Swiss architect and an international authority in his field. In 2009 he was honored for his entire oeuvre with the Pritzker Architecture Prize.


Zumthor was the son of a cabinetmaker and also learned this trade himself. He attended the art academy in Basel from 1958. In the mid-1960s minimalism was on the rise and he became interested in architecture. In 1966 he studied at the Pratt Institute in New York. After his studies, he did restoration projects for listed buildings in the canton of Graubünden for ten years. In 1979 he started his own architectural office in Haldenstein, Switzerland. Since 1996 he has also been a professor at the Accademia di Architettura in Mendrisio. He is an honorary member of the Bund Deutscher Architecten.

Architectural view

Zumthor is known for the great craftsmanship, from which he makes his choices for materials and the way, in which they are processed. Zumthor's designs are related to Swiss Minimalism, but are distinguished by an individuality and a love of the countryside. The designer describes his approach as follows: 'Architecture has its own realm. It has a special physical relationship with life. I do not think of it primarily as either a message or a symbol, but as an envelope and background for life, which goes on in and around it - a sensitive container for the rhythm of footsteps on the floor, for the concentration of work, for the silence of sleep... This shows that Zumthor considers it important for architecture to lead its own life. She has a special bond with the living. It must be a "package" for the various functions, which life brings with it.

Zumthor holds a delineated position within building and architectural theory. He is not interested in architecture that is only fought out on paper or through polemics. Many architects go all out for the 2d version of a building, but not for the final result. They are more interested in the theory or in a certain part of the building. Zumthor, on the other hand, finds it more important to be concerned with the materials or how forms can flow into each other, not in the aesthetically correct way, but in the way that most appeals to him. He is interested in the building itself, how one sees it or how one feels it, with the building looking like a body formed around an interior environment. The architect likes to express the qualities of space to the maximum, choosing materials and room layouts carefully. Zumthor's buildings excel in the sophisticated texture of the materials, the play of light and the visible handicraft.

At the presentation of the 2009 Pritzker Prize, the chairman praised Zumthor as an architect averse to compromise. In doing so, he stated, "Zumhtor has a rare talent that allows him to combine a clear and rigorous frame of mind with a poetic dimension. His work continues to renew itself." Zumthor calls the award a brilliant recognition of his architectural work over the past twenty years.

Executed works

Haus Gugalun

An example of renovation architecture by Zumthor is Haus Gugalun in the mountains of Switzerland. The basis was a farmhouse dating from 1760,[1] which had been owned by the Truog family from generation to generation. The descendants of this family asked Zumthor in 1990 to modernize the ruin and adapt it as a vacation home. The condition was that the magic of the place and its centuries-long function as a farmhouse should not be lost sight of. The history of the family and the house had to remain intact in the design of the renovation. Reviving the spirit of the house was one of the main requirements for Zumthor's intervention.

The house had been built according to the Swiss building style with the use of heavy solid beams. The entrance to the renovated house had to be on the same side as before. Modern materials were largely avoided except for concrete. Some contemporary requirements were added, such as a modern kitchen and bathroom. The extension was partially buried in a slope. Over time, the exterior of the extension will have the same texture as the older part. Weathering will cause the wood to discolor and give the whole building the impression of being an old building.

Field chapel in Wachendorf

On the rolling meadows of the village of Mechernich-Wachendorf in the Eifel, the architect built the Brother Klaus Chapel in 2007. It is a tranquil abstract field chapel that, when viewed from a distance, could be mistaken for a concrete grain silo or water tower.[2] In this relatively small building, Zumthor's architectural conception is powerfully realized: the building as a sensual body around an interior environment with particular attention to texture, light play and handwork where every detail contributes to the experience of the whole. Long tree trunks were placed in tent form and served as formwork for the shell of the chapel space with an opening in the roof at the top. Then the tree trunks were burned away with a light smoldering fire resulting in a cave-like space with the structure of tree trunks pressed into concrete. Zumthor's house of worship forms a powerful sign of recognition in the landscape.

Kolumba Museum

The Kolumba Museum, which houses the visual arts of the Archdiocese of Cologne, was completed in 2007. The building near Cologne Cathedral was erected on the ruins of an old Gothic church. Zumthor's museum building also houses a modern chapel by Cologne architect Gottfried Böhm. At the opening of the museum, the designer set himself against the idea of a cultural institution as an extravagant marketing icon. His starting point is the value in itself of an architecture departing from the unique and special location, natural materials with a perfect finish, cleverly detailed with thoughtful (art) lighting, in short an integer architecture in which the displayed works of art are shown to their full advantage.

Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor in 1997.
Kunsthaus Bregenz by Peter Zumthor in 1997.
Bruder Klaus Field Chapel by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
Bruder Klaus Field Chapel by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
Kolumba Art Museum by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
Kolumba Art Museum by Peter Zumthor in 2007.
 Steilneset Memorial for the Victims of the Witch Trials by Peter Zumthor in 2011.
Steilneset Memorial for the Victims of the Witch Trials by Peter Zumthor in 2011.

Distinctions and prizes

  • 1987: Awards for good buildings Graubünden
  • 1989: Heinrich Tessenow Medal, Technical University of Hannover, Germany
  • 1991: Gulam, European wiid-glue prize
  • 1992: International architecture prize for new building in the Alps, Sexten, South Tyrol/Italy
  • 1993: Best Building 1993 award from Swiss tc's '10 vor '10, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1994: Award for good buildings in the canton of Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1995: International Prize for Stone Architecture, Fiera di Verona, Italy
  • 1995: International Prize for Architecture for New Building in the Alps, Sesto, South Tyrol/Italy
  • 1996: Erich-Schelling Architecture Prize, Erich-Schelling Foundation, Germany
  • 1997: Honorary membership of the Association of German Architects (BDA)
  • 1998: Carlsberg Architectural Prize, Carlsberg Foundation, Denmark
  • 1998: Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture in Barcelona, for the Kunsthaus Bregenz
  • 1999: International Architecture Prize for New Building in the Alps, Sesto, South Tyrol/Italy
  • 2004: Honorary Member of the AIA American Institute of Architects
  • 2006: Prix Meret Oppenheim of the Swiss Federal Office of Culture (BAK)
  • 2008: Praemium Imperiale, Japan Arts Association
  • 2008: Brick Award 08, Wienenberger Company for the Kolumba Museum in Cologne
  • 2008: DAM - Prize for Architecture in Germany for the Art Museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne Kolumba
  • 2009: Admission to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • 2009: Pritzker Architecture Prize, Madrid
  • 2010: Daylight Award
  • 2011: Art and Culture Award of the German Catholics
  • 2011: Architecture Award NRW for the Art Museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne Kolumba in Cologne, Germany
  • 2012: Royal Gold Medal of the Royal Institute of British Architects
  • 2013: Nike of the Association of German Architects in the category Atmosphere as well as the main prize Great Nike for the new building of the Art Museum of the Archdiocese of Cologne Kolumba
  • 2017: Grand BDA Prize, first foreign award winner
  • 2020: Culture Award of the City of Chur

Important works

  • 1983 Churwalden elementary school, Churwalden, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1983 Haus Räth, Haldenstein, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1986 Enclosure for a Roman archaeological site, Chur, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1986 Atelier Zumthor, Haldenstein, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1989 Caplutta Sogn Benedetg (Saint Benedict's chapel), Sumvitg, Graubünden, Switzerland[4]
  • 1990 Art museum Chur, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1993 Elder's house, Masans, Chur, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1996 Spittelhof houses, Biel-Benken, Basel, Switzerland
  • 1996 Therme Vals, Vals, Graubünden, Switzerland
  • 1997 Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz, Vorarlberg, Austria
  • 1997 Topography of Terror, International Exhibition and Documentation Center, Berlin, Germany (unfinished)
  • 1997-2000 Swiss Pavilion EXPO 2000, Hannover, Germany
  • 1997 Villa in Küsnacht on Lake Zurich Küsnacht, Switzerland
  • 1997 Lichtforum Zumtobel Staff, Zurich, Switzerland
  • 1999 Cloud Rock Wilderness Lodge, Moab, Utah, United States
  • 2007 Field Chapel, Wachendorf
  • 2007 Kolumba (Kunstmuseum des Erzbistums Köln), Cologne
  • 2012 Werkraum Bregenzerwald, Andelsbuch, Austria


  • 2012: Architectural Models, KUB Collection Showcase Kunsthaus Bregenz
  • 2017: Peter Zumthor - Dear to Me, Kunsthaus Bregenz.


  • Houses. Lars Müller, Baden 1998, ISBN 3-907044-42-8.
  • Houses 1979-1997. photographs by Hélène Binet. Birkhäuser, Basel 1999, ISBN 3-7643-6098-4.
  • Does beauty have a form? In: Christoph Metzger on behalf of the International Music Institute Darmstadt (ed.): Music and Architecture. 2003, ISBN 3-89727-227-X, P. 13.
  • Architecture Thinking. Birkhäuser Verlag, Basel 1999, ISBN 3-7643-6100-X. (Second, expanded edition 2006, ISBN 3-7643-7496-9).
  • How much light does man need to live, and how much darkness? Birkhäuser, Basel/ Boston/ Berlin 2006.
  • Zumthor - Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award 2006. Wood in Culture Association, Helsinki 2006.
  • Therme Vals. Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2007, ISBN 978-3-85881-704-4.
  • Atmospheres. Architectural environments. The things around me. Birkhäuser, Basel/ Boston/ Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-7643-7494-2.
  • Buildings and Projects 1985-2013. edited by Thomas Durisch, 5 volumes. Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2014, ISBN 978-3-85881-723-5.
  • The story in things. edited by P. Zumthor and Mari Landung, Scheidegger & Spiess, Zurich 2018.


  • Christoph Metzger in conversation with Peter Zumthor: Stages of my compositional experience with musical architectures. In: Christoph Metzger on behalf of the International Music Institute Darmstadt (ed.): Music and Architecture. Pfau, Saarbrücken 2003, ISBN 3-89727-227-X.
  • Nadine Haepke: Sacral Stagings in Contemporary Architecture. John Pawson - Peter Kulka - Peter Zumthor. transcript, Bielefeld 2013, ISBN 978-3-8376-2535-6.
  • Toni Hildebrandt (in conversation with Peter Zumthor): architecture, image and design. In: Rheinsprung 11. journal of image criticism. 1, 2011, pp. 139-146. (online; PDF; 965 kB).
  • Moritz Holfelder: Peter Zumthor: The Magic of the Real. DOM Publishers, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86922-104-5. (Audio CD with descriptions of buildings and interview passages by the architect on his working methods, 75 minutes + booklet).
  • Katja Marek: National Identity and Swiss Homeliness Made by Peter Zumthor. Architecture and identity constructions between clichés and image. VDM Verlag Dr. Müller, Saarbrücken 2007, ISBN 978-3-8364-5291-5.
  • Manfred Sack: Peter Zumthor. Three Concepts. Birkhäuser, Basel 1999, ISBN 3-7643-5744-4.


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This page was last changed on 2021-09-21.