Peter Zumthor’s 2011 Serpentine Gallery pavilion

You would be wise not to call Peter Zumthor a monk. He may be white-bearded and dark-clad and his office, in a secluded spot outside the Swiss town of Chur, may take the form of a cloister around a garden. His studio gathered there of young acolytes may have a superficial resemblance to a cult. He may be someone who talks with reverence about his craft and who inspires extreme reverence in other architects. He may carry with him a hushed aura, in his own speech, in the way others talk of him and in his buildings. He may sometimes rise at 4am to pursue his work. He may, in his oeuvre, have a certain number of chapels, memorials and other contemplative spaces, and he may like to talk of such things as the “mystery” of materials. But at the suggestion he might be otherwordly, he becomes vehement.

“There are these prejudices that have always been accompanying my whole career, which is first they said, ‘Yes he does these beautiful buildings, but they are up in the mountains and they are only possible in the mountains…’ Then they say, ‘You only build in wood’ or they’re saying you’re the monk or you’re arrogant.” He is, he insists, down to earth: “I design for the use of a building and the place and for the people who use it… the reputation for arrogance comes because when work is offered to me I look whether I can find a genuine interest in quality. If I only find an interest in using my name for economic reasons, or if I can see that this is a project that only deals with image and facade, of course I say no.”

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Rowan Moore
Guardian

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