The Artisan Architecture of Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor's projects are a clear example of the sensitivity and serenity of architecture. His design process is reflective and sensorial, which contributes particular characteristics. In this article, discover the artisan architecture of Peter Zumthor.
The Artisan Architecture of Peter Zumthor

Last update: 12 August, 2020

The architecture of Peter Zumthor stands out for being artisan and sober, inserting itself into the surrounding landscape in a subtle way. It has a deep respect for its surroundings. This Swiss architect greatly values the choice of materials, as well as their quality, and the spaces.

In fact, the impressive prestige Peter Zumthor has earned, both inside and outside Switzerland is due to the care with which he chooses his projects. Among his works, we can highlight the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, the Museum of London, the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, and the Kolumba Museum in Cologne, Germany.

The 7132 Thermal Baths in Vals, Switzerland is an essential contemporary architecture building and is also the most notorious work in Switzerland by Peter Zumthor.

In addition to being an artisan of architecture, Peter Zumthor is an excellent writer who’s published monographs. In this regard, his last printed work stands out, which covers his architecture from 1985 to 2013 in five volumes.

The life and work of Peter Zumthor

A photograph of Peter Zumthor.
Image: KovacsDaniel at

Peter Zumthor was born in Basel, Switzerland, in 1943. His father, a cabinetmaker, instilled woodworking knowledge in his son. Peter trained as a cabinetmaker from 1958 to 1962. Between the years 1963 to 1967, he went to the Vorkurs and Fachklasse School of Arts. Then, he traveled to New York, where he specialized at the Pratt Institute.

After he completed his studies at the art school, the Canton of Graubünden (Switzerland) hired him to work in the Department for the Preservation of Monuments. In 1979, he opened his first studio in the city of Haldenstein, Switzerland.

His career has been fruitful, not only in the field of construction but also in the academic realm. In fact, since 1996, he’s been a professor at the Academy of Architecture, Universitá della Svizzera Italiana, Mendrisio.

Also, he was a visiting professor at the University of Southern California Institute of Architecture and SCI-ARC in Los Angeles in 1988; at the Technische Universität, Munich in 1989; and at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University in 1999.

He’s won multiple awards, including the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association in 2008. That same year, he also won the Arnold W. Brunner Memorial Prize in Architecture by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Other major prizes he has won are the Carlsberg Architecture Prize in Denmark in 1998 and the Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture in 1999.

“Designing is a matter of concentration. You go deep into what you want to do. It’s about intensive research, really. The concentration is warm and intimate and like the fire inside the earth – intense but not distorted. You can go to a place, really feel it in your heart. It’s actually a beautiful feeling.”

-Peter Zumthor-

Works by Peter Zumthor – 7132 Thermal Baths, Graubünden, Switzerland

7132 Thermal Baths.

Between 1993 and 1996, Peter Zumthor built the 7132 Thermal Baths. These baths were added to the preexisting hotel that was built in 1970. This building sits on a gently sloping green hill that rises from the hotel, which serves as a roof for the new baths. Peter Zumthor’s idea was to create a park atmosphere with natural plantations.

This building reflects the Swiss architect’s fascination for the mystical qualities of mountains, chiaroscuro games, and the light water reflects.

The concept this architect used to design these baths and the spa focused on creating a cave-shaped structure. Taking inspiration from the natural environment, he located the baths under a green hill. So, it’s a semi-buried structure on the hillside.

The 7132 Thermal Baths were built using locally quarried Valser quartzite slabs. This stone is the inspiration for the design and architects use it with great respect.

This is Peter Zumthor’s masterpiece. He created a place that pays homage to light and shadow. In fact, two years after it was built, the building became protected.

Kunsthaus Bregenz museum, Bregenz, Vorarlberg, Austria

Bregenz Museum.

Zumthor worked on this project after the 7132 Thermal Baths. In fact, it’s the product of a commission, in which the architect confirmed his inclination toward minimalism. This commission was requested in 1989, and one of its requirements was to design a conventional provincial gallery.

Another administrative office building complements this museum. In fact, it frames an open square, which is closed on the south side with the back wall of the exhibition hall but that opens on the other side towards the city.

This plaza is the link between the museum and the life of the city of Bregenz. Also, this area is versatile, since there’s an open cafeteria in the square, with tables and chairs. In addition, the exhibitions include outdoor events and activities, which take place in this square.

The museum’s minimalist design adapts the spaces for the art exhibited in them. Therefore, it leads to a harmonious relationship between art and architecture.

Peter Zumthor’s winning project prevailed over the other proposals thanks to the fact that it included a square as an urban space. The Kunsthaus Bregenz, along with the 7132 Thermal Baths, catapulted Peter Zumthor to the forefront of international minimalist architecture.

Works by Peter Zumthor – Kolumba Museum, Cologne, Germany

Kolumba Museum.
Image: Elsa Wetzig at

This building, located in Cologne, Germany, is an example of Peter Zumthor’s mastery and sensitivity. With it, he has achieved a brilliant fusion between the ruins of a destroyed Catholic church and modern, sober, minimalist, and sensitive architecture with religious art.

The building sits on the ruins of a church dedicated to Saint Columba. This church was devastated during the allied bombings that left the city in ruins during World War II.

The place where the old church was located became even more important due to archaeological discoveries. In this regard, during the post-World War II reconstruction works, Roman, Gothic, and medieval ruins were found under the church.

For this reason, the Kolumba association, depositary of an important collection of Christian art, commissioned a competition in 1997. This competition was to highlight the old church and project a place that could exhibit its collection more widely.

Peter Zumthor got the first prize in the competition due to his ambitious and subtle proposal. He suggested a building that completely enveloped the church’s ruins, eventually merging with them.

In addition, it uses the upper level, as well as a side wing to site the exhibition areas. The building was built between 2003 and 2007.

In short, as we explained in this article, this architect tries, both in shapes, materials, and the use of light, to create buildings with an air of serenity and meditation. Due to these qualities, his buildings transcend time.

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