Did Frank Lloyd Wright have any siblings

Peter Zumthor

Hans-Joachim Müller: In the distinction between the media there are architects and star architects, whereby the category "star architect"
is relatively new. How did the architect become a star?

Peter Zumthor: It's not that new at all. Perhaps the term “star” is new. In the past one spoke of masters. Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, they were masters. And when the media talk about stars, they mean the master class. There was and still is this need for illustration. Something or someone always has to rise above the others. It's not particularly helpful for work.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Are you a star architect?

Peter Zumthor: At least I don't feel that way. And it wouldn't be an attribution that interests me either. This media word is only annoying because it obscures the matter. If you are a star, you market brands. But that's exactly not the way of doing architecture that I imagine.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Maybe you can't even defend yourself against the stardom, against the name becoming public. At some point there will come a moment when everyone knows who Peter Zumthor is, even people who are hardly interested in architecture. Is that how you experienced it?

Peter Zumthor: Yes, as a very slow process. When I think of my early work, of the chapel or the protective structures in Chur, it was a very small group of people who were interested. Colleagues, architects, students, the narrow circle of specialists. Then at the thermal baths in Vals or at the pavilion in Hanover it was different. These are public buildings per se that are visited by a lot of people. From that point of view, it was not surprising that the audience grew rapidly. That has more to do with the building task and less with the status of the architect in the media public. I don't want to deny that it's nice when there is more audience and people can think of something about the work. And also not that people come to me today who know my name and only want something from me because of that name. The good thing is that once you've become a little more prominent, you can also reject things.

Hans-Joachim Müller: What do you reject?

Peter Zumthor: I thought about what I wanted as an architect, and that's what I'm assuming. I want to make buildings that I can realize with my group. My group, that's around twenty employees, I don't want more. That is the size that is still clear for me and for us. If I employed more than twenty, I would no longer be able to work with all of them. And I want to make buildings where I supply the whole, the whole building and not just any appearance, not just a picture. I want to be able to do things myself, like a sculptor creates a sculpture. These are the basic decisions. And they also give me the opportunity to say, I'll do it or I won't.

Hans-Joachim Müller: But that wasn't always the case?

Peter Zumthor: Yes, you have to see that, it's a relatively recent development. Maybe it's ten years, certainly not more. Before, I didn't have these choices. But for ten years now I've been able to choose offers and assignments and don't have to work for people who only care about their names and want to commit to something very specific.

Hans-Joachim Müller: So you wouldn't build an entire architecture factory like your colleagues Herzog & de Meuron in Basel, which now has over a hundred people?

Peter Zumthor: As far as the inquiries are concerned, that would be possible. But I don’t want to. I have a different understanding of my work and I think it's great that I can determine the size of my office today.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Could you describe when and under what conditions a construction project appeals to you? When do you accept, when do you decline?

Peter Zumthor: I need a good client. This is important. I need a construction project that I think would make sense to complete. And I need a place that I like, or better: that challenges me. I may not even have to please it, but it has to be my business. To give you an example: if Norman Foster asks me if I would build him a church for his new settlement on the outskirts of Milan, then I can quickly agree. I am very interested in a church in a socially difficult environment, I have ideas for that, that challenges me. But if someone comes to me recently, a nice, rich person from Ireland, and wants to get involved, money doesn't matter, the property in Dublin is also there, he just needs the key work of the 21st century, then I'm not him right man. I had to tell him: My shop doesn't have this department, famous buildings of the 21st century, I don't even know how to do it. Or the fashion designer Giorgio Armani.
He wanted something great from me and had a clear idea of ​​what the great house should look like. Above all, he already had the catwalk in his head, he wanted it for the autumn, and the factory, which I could build later, but the catwalk had to be exactly as he remembered it from one of our buildings. I just had to tell him: That was once upon a time, I don't have any types available. What I do, I always do it all over again. It's not like in the fashion business for me. There is
Seasons, one in spring, one in autumn; for me there is the time of architecture, it lasts much longer, it has nothing to do with spring and autumn. And that was it with Giorgio Armani.

Hans-Joachim Müller: How important is it for you that the client understands what you are doing and actively participates in the design process?

Peter Zumthor: That is very important to me. The building owner as a vacuum, that's terrible. Architecture is an art that serves. I need - and that is meant literally - the client. I don't want to make architecture that only serves my self-realization. That is why the place that I can take into consideration is so crucial for me. I am not interested in virtual architecture, I am interested in the built that is created in collaboration with someone who says what he wants. I don't always have to question that. In my experience, you don't really have to question anything with people who can say what they want. This is of course much more difficult with public projects. At the thermal baths in Vals, for example, there were program development specialists who had completely different ideas than I did. But I was lucky that the builders believed me. It is clear to the program developers that leaving something like a thermal bath to an architect can only turn out badly. And when the building was slowly being finished, the building owners also got scared and called in a marketing expert again. Of course, the same applied to him. It can only be a catastrophe, they said, no one will like this house, what is being built is so elitist that not a single bather is drawn to Vals. It is always these professional program writers who face the greatest opposition. A person who says what he wants is much more sympathetic to me. Most recently it was the clients in Vals who insisted and said: We wanted it that way, we want it to be built the way we discussed it with the architect, we like that and we stand by it. And now they have a third more overnight stays in town.

Hans -Joachim Müller: Do you visit your thermal bath again and again?

Peter Zumthor: My wife runs the hotel. But I don't go there often.

Hans-Joachim Müller: What you've built is complete for you?

Peter Zumthor: Completed in the sense that I no longer deal with it. What is of interest is the current task.

Hans-Joachim Müller: You also don't go to your Bregenz Kunsthaus and see the famous exhibitions there?

Peter Zumthor: No, never. But that has nothing to do with the architecture or the fact that it's mine. The problem is that I can't be anonymous anywhere; I cannot bathe anonymously in Vals either. Immediately someone comes who has recognized me and explains how beautiful he thinks it all, only he doesn't like this or that very much. No, I'm not doing that to myself. Things are made for people and for specific tasks. And they have to prove themselves in these everyday tasks.

Hans-Joachim Müller: As far as the Kunsthaus Bregenz is concerned, you were also lucky with the museum people. You really do an excellent program. It is amazing what the artists think of again and again, in rooms that offer a lot more or, depending on the point of view, less than classic museum walls. In any case, they will not find the white cube.

Peter Zumthor: As I have heard, there is a long list of artists who definitely want to exhibit here. Obviously like the house. I know the criticism that kept reproaching me that you couldn't hang anything on the walls made of polished concrete. I contradicted that from the start. These walls are not prohibitive at all, you can and can deal with them. Nothing forbids drilling holes up to eight inches deep. We have developed a system, a special mortar, with which you can close the holes again without seeing anything. Back then, before the house opened, it was still said: OK, let's leave the exposed concrete if the architect insists on it. But then we paint everything that knows how the artists want and need it. As you can see, the artists obviously don't want or need it.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Is there a favorite among your buildings, a major work with which you fully agree?

Peter Zumthor: Do you have children? Do you have a favorite child? No, that does not exist. Perhaps you can put it this way: The things you are dealing with are always a little closer to you, but not the closest.

Hans-Joachim Müller: In your list of works, the public cultural buildings stand out in particular: museums, baths, churches.

Peter Zumthor: There are also completely different construction tasks among them. But it is true that the commercial things are missing. If I'm only supposed to deliver a label, then I'm not available. If, for example, I get an order from Japan and it is part of the order to come over with the first facade drafts in three weeks if possible, then I immediately decline. I would really like to get involved in a very specific commercial area, namely residential construction. There is a settlement of mine in Biel-Benken bei
Basel, which is also very popular with the people who live there. But to this day I haven't managed to get a second residential complex
to build. Mostly it is because these projects are motivated by profit alone, and it is very difficult for investors
to prove that you can make a profit even with good architecture. So I usually believe in the spiritual in art and like to do things for people's stay, for their well-being. Whether it's a museum or a kitchen, that's not a fundamental difference for me.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Well-being is also a sensual category, not just a spiritual one.

Peter Zumthor: I mean both. You can't really separate them. When you think of a picture, it can exude just as much a seductive power as a picture as it does as a sensual object.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Is there actually a Zumthor style? You say that every construction task presents you with new challenges, and yet something like a recognizable aesthetic has developed over time.

Peter Zumthor: Perhaps it would be better not to speak of style, but of a certain approach, of a specific conscientiousness in solving the tasks. There are people who come to me and say that they feel comfortable in the rooms, that they feel something. Maybe that's what I'm pretty good at: building spaces where you feel good. I don't know why that is either, but experience shows that I always succeed. Let's put it this way: this is a gift. And it is a gift that I can do what I like to do and what people like. It is very nice when something comes back from those for whom I designed the rooms.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Is it art what you build?

Peter Zumthor: Architecture, yes, yes. But I don't see myself as an artist. Although I don't defend myself when someone calls it art. Then that's how he feels, and that's okay. I already claim to be involved in an aesthetic project. In any case, I don't see myself as a service provider. It is always said that architecture is an art that serves. That's probably true, and it should be. But in the end I work as a writer and not as a service provider. That the marketers have the final say. For a project in Finland, we calculated precisely that our plans could generate a return of at least 12 percent. That was simply not enough for investors. That's the problem. It was similar in Lucerne. An excellent downtown location. And I am convinced that people would have loved living in our houses there and that the whole project would have generated enough returns. But for investors, anything that goes beyond the usual is an incalculable risk. They don't want the best architecture, they want the highest profit. These are the principles of housing construction. So the fact that we have built more cultural buildings does not mean that we are not interested in residential construction. Only with our means and possibilities we do not get the corresponding orders.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Do you have a favorite museum that you visit again and again?

Peter Zumthor: As a young architect, I was very impressed by the All Saints Museum in Schaffhausen. Today I think the Dia Art Foundation in New York is very good. I also like to be in Basel, in the art museum or in the art gallery. I have also been to the Folkwang Museum in Essen again and again, which they are now tearing down. We are now opening the Kolumba Museum in Cologne in May. That was a very nice construction task.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Why is it that the art museum in particular?
has become one of the outstanding construction tasks of the present?

Peter Zumthor: One thing is that one suspects values ​​in the occupation or handling of art that go beyond the material. At the same time, art has a lot to do with money. Both play a role. But the important thing is that the aesthetic experience is located in the vicinity of the spiritual experience. The more the church has lost its importance as a public place, the more the museum has gained in importance. The museum is one of the very few places where you can still have spiritual experiences. The fact that so many people visit the museums has to do with the intellectual, emotional and spiritual stimulation one expects there. On the other hand, one must of course not overlook this, the museums have become very important business locations for city marketing.

Hans-Joachim Müller: Is that what your architecture wants to give: spiritual stimulation?

Peter Zumthor: At least I believe in the spiritual and not in the commercial in art. I mean in the very classic sense that a simple, well-made niche with goat leather benches is good for me, that it accompanies me and my family well in life. The spiritual in art or architecture means nothing else than that built space can have a certain dignity, that it helps us, that we can perhaps feel a little better in it. That doesn't do any harm. Perhaps then the person does not freak out and do not immediately take up the gun. In any case, it's my experience that things well done can have a powerful effect. doesn't rule out the many conversations and discussions with the client. But these conversations and discussions also include making it clear: I am not just an implementer, not a commercial architect who receives the specifications, the budget, the time frame and the spatial plan and then carries out things. In the end, I'm a writer. The client must know that. Everything can be discussed up to this point. And if you point out that this or that has not been carefully considered by me, that it doesn't work that way, then I have no problems with it. I do think that I'm often right, but certainly not always. Then you go over the books again, that goes without saying. Or if someone in the office has a better idea, it would be foolish not to react. This is part of the writing process as I understand it. I am an author not as an artist but as an architect. And I would like an artist or a philosopher to take me seriously as an architect, just as I would like to take philosophers seriously as philosophers and not as artists. I like competence a lot.

Hans-Joachim Müller: What were the big ideas and influences at the beginning of your architectural path?

Peter Zumthor: The arts and crafts school in Basel, which I attended with my father after completing my craft apprenticeship, was structured just like the Bauhaus at the time, with specialist classes, preliminary courses and workshops. Everything around me was classic modernism, so to speak. And the big topic of the day - the good form - already occupied us as school pupils. That was the basis, and then came the period from 1968 to 1979, the political time when I dedicated myself entirely to the preservation of monuments. That could easily be reconciled with one's political conscience. Village analysis, art history from below. A major turning point came at the end of the 1970s when Stanislaus von Moos published the little “Archithesis” and Aldo Rossi appeared at the ETH Zurich. For us, who grew up in Classical Modernism, that was exciting, as for example Venturi & Rauch criticized functionalism with their theses on content and form and at the same time the Ticino movement revived old rationalist concepts. A nice, very open time. Suddenly you could bring your story and your own experience back into your work. It was much more than just a theoretical concept of postmodernism, it was like a liberation from everything that was forbidden in classical modernism. Aldo Rossi insisted that he shouldn't be copied straight away, but that his own designs should be defended: If you grew up in Graubünden, then use the shapes of your surroundings and not my Lombardy windows. For me, that was a very decisive tip not to take postmodernism as a new style, but rather as an opportunity to develop a relationship with one's own history again. And out of all of this, what emerged was one's own.

Hans-Joachim Müller: And then at some point the wood began to become a kind of handwritten material?

Peter Zumthor: It is sometimes said that wood plays such a central role in my work. But it is not true. Glass and concrete also appear again and again. Which material you choose depends entirely on the respective construction task. You won't find a single piece of wood at the Kunsthaus Bregenz.

Hans-Joachim Müller: There are also failed projects in your plant. Was it a painful experience that after much back and forth in Berlin it did not come to the «Topography of Terror» memorial?

Peter Zumthor: Above all, it is painful to have to watch quite helplessly how clever and well-disposed people in Germany claim that, as a stubborn Swiss who never gave in, I owe a large part of the blame for the failure to materialize. That's just not true. But what should I do about it? I think we really ought to reopen the case and show it in Germany what it really was like. The popular thesis of the stubborn Swiss is a bit simple. And it is a bit strange how you come to terms with the official reason that the stubborn Swiss architect failed and the incompetent Berlin building authorities failed. It wasn't like that.

Hans-Joachim Müller: How was it then?

Peter Zumthor: The building was not wanted; from nobody. It was just an alibi exercise. A building that never had a client. Nobody in Berlin, nobody in Germany who would have made himself strong. Berlin politics did not want it; the covenant said clearly that it had nothing to do with it; the Topography of Terror Foundation actually fought it. The only one who might have wanted the project was the president of the competition jury. After all, it was his idea. Only there was no money. The budget would just have been enough for half of the advertised program. And when that became known, the watchword was: Hold still, let's just start. It was absurd, there is no other way of saying it.

Hans-Joachim Müller: And why didn't you jump under such conditions?

Peter Zumthor: With my current experience, I should have left earlier. But it wasn't that transparent then. It was only gradually that I realized that nobody really wanted the building. It's just crazy if people now assume or expect me to have had to fight for the building as a foreigner in Berlin, as a Swiss architect, I should have told the Germans how to remember the crimes of history. This is a strange attitude that justifies the disaster with a lack of communication: At the memorial for the victims of the Holocaust or at the Jewish Museum, there were gifted communicators; and with the topography of terror only the brittle Swiss architects and the learned Mr. Rürup, who were not able to win the public over to the building. Is that really my job as an architect? I think I came up with something for the building project, for this place and for the visitors. And I am sorry that you are now seeing nothing more than a didactic exhibition in the style of the sixties and that the battered aura of the place is literally trampled underfoot. In my opinion, it would have been important if you could still feel the place during your visit and if the remains of the walls of the Gestapo cellar had not only served as walls for display boards. No, you didn't want this kind of immediate memory, which can also be experienced in architecture. It has been dismissed as inadmissible symbolist exaggeration. So the sensual experience of the monstrous history of the place is covered with science and didactics, disappears from concrete experience, becomes abstract and thus begins to move away from our lives.