• 04.13.09

Pritzker Prize – the Nobel of Architecture – Goes to Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor Field Chapel

Today, architecture’s highest award, the Pritzker Prize, was announced–and you’ve probably never heard of the the man who won, Peter Zumthor. He prefers it that way. He doesn’t have a Web site. He frequently refuses commissions. Unlike recent Prtizker winners such as Zaha Hadid or Jean Nouvel, Zumthor has been a shadowy figure in the profession. Although his work has been eagerly anticipated and poured over by architecture fans for over ten years, he has continued focusing on small buildings with a jeweler’s attention to detail. As the Pritzker jury wrote: “He develops buildings of great integrity–untouched by fad or fashion. Declining a majority of the commissions that come his way, he only accepts a project if he feels a deep affinity for its program, and from the moment of commitment, his devotion is complete, overseeing the project’s realization to the very last detail.” Zumthor is the 33rd laureate in the competition, and the honor wins him $100,000; it will be formally awarded in a ceremony in Buenos Aires on May 29.


So what makes him special? You can check out slideshows of his work here and here. But we’ve also gathered images of his two most recent projects, which are remarkable.

The Field Chapel to St. Nikolaus von der Flüe, completed in 2007, in Mechernich, Germany, presents itself as a solemn obelisk, rising from a field on a farmer’s plot (above). But inside, it’s a completely different story: The interior was made by laying 112 tree trunks together, in a tent-like shape; 24 layers of concrete was then poured around them over 24 days. Then the trunks were burned, leaving a darkened, revelatory space that feels of a piece with nature. The floor was covered in molten lead, giving the space a startlingly quietness. Zumthor himself helped build the chapel, alongside the farmer who commissioned it:


The view looking up at the opening in the ceiling.


The site of The Art Museum in Kolumba, Cologne, has more layers of history than most architects could handle. In addition to the ruined walls of a Gothic church, there’s also a chapel from the 1950s and an archaeological excavation from the 1970s. Zumthor’s museum, completed in 2007, ties them all together delicately, by enclosing the site with minimal brick walls built directly upon the remains of the Gothic church. Inside, the openings in the brick create a rich filigree of light.

Peter Zumthor Art Museum in Kolumba
Peter Zumthor Art Museum in Kolumba

[Images via Pritzker Foundation]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.