Sensory Architecture

Peter Zumthor is an architect from Switzerland, aged 73 who in 2013 obtained a Royal Institute of British Architects Royal Gold Medal, putting him up there on the wall of fame with other veteran architects. He approaches his work very differently to other architects, he tends to focus on the sensory side of a project, questioning if the building suits its surroundings rather than just creating a building for a client. Zumthor believes it is important that his client understands he is not a brand and wants to design a building that has meaning, rather than repeating previous projects.

His use of materials and the processes he uses in his work are one of many reasons of his success and why he stands out from other architects. An example is the Bruder Klaus chapel that he designed and constructed in his home country, Switzerland. The chapel was made through an extremely bizarre yet impressive process. Logs were used to form the main structure of the chapel acting like a skeleton of the building and then concrete was poured over them to create a solid mould for the building, like the skin. After drying, the logs were then burned from the inside and the concrete structure was all that was left standing . Because of this process, the inside of the chapel has an incredibly unique cave-like look with an amazing texture created on the walls and completely opposite to the exterior of the chapel which is five sharp sided walls of concrete. Your senses become ignited when you enter the chapel, from the smell of the fire and charcoal that formed the building, to the rough texture of the walls and the light seeping down from the sky into this dark cave. It is incredible that such a simple building with minimal design having gone into it, has such a dramatic effect on the human body and totally reflects the talent and skill of Peter Zumthor.

Although the process of how the Bruder Klaus chapel was constructed impressed me greatly, my personal favourite of his projects is the Thermas Vals Spa hotel which again is in Zumthor’s homeland, Switzerland. It was built between 1993 – 1996 and incorporates an existing hotel on the site in the mountains. The building has a modern yet organic look and through choice of material used, the building emits a very calm feeling, causing a harmonious state of mind, perfectly suiting a spa hotel in the Swiss snowy mountains! In traditional Chinese culture they believe in an extra sense or inner energy called ‘Qi’ (pronounced chi) that is inside everything living, I believe this “circulating life force” is demonstrated throughout this building because of its tranquility and peacefulness. A stream-like pool mazes in and out of the stone building breaking off into different rooms of this interior quarry, giving the building a timeless feeling of relaxation and really causes you to appreciate the beauty of the elements, both still and moving, stone and water.

After learning about Peter Zumthor and researching his work, I have instantly become a fan of his and really respect his mindset towards his work. Although some of his projects are slightly too simple for my liking I can still understand and respect that there is personal meaning to them for Zumthor. I like that through simplistic yet effective designs, processes and materials he has the talent to create beautiful and unique buildings.


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