“I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for specific use in a specific place and a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and as critically as they can.”
– Peter Zumthor
Peter Zumthor is a Swiss architect and writer who has created unique architectural marvels by exploring materials and the concept of light and shadow using simple forms. He has written several books explaining his views and thoughts on architecture. In the video “I never decided to become an architect,” the Louisiana channel has extensively documented the biography of one of the world’s leading architects, Peter Zumthor.
The video begins by showcasing some of his outstanding architectural works as well as his studio. And then, he talks about settling in Switzerland in terms of his career and his family after leaving a big city. There are a lot of people who are moving into smaller towns and villages, away from the city, to find silence and peace, which can help us achieve great things in life. This is seen clearly in Peter Zumthor’s life as he moved to the small town of Haldenstein to have his own space away from all the chaos of the big city and where he could think on his own without being criticised constantly by his colleagues. From the introduction, you can see how he struggled to adapt to the new locality and how he accepted that this was going to be his life moving forward. He is very open and honest about his experiences, which can easily make one relate to Peter Zumthor. We all have a plan in life, and sometimes it may not go as planned. Yet, it may turn out better than anticipated. This is one of the many takeaways from this documentary.
Do you need silence to be creative?
The creative process for every architect is very different. For some, the chaotic sounds give them inner peace and help them in their creative process, while for others, a calm and peaceful environment can drive their creative instincts. For Peter Zumthor, all he needs is mental silence and his creative process just starts pouring out. He explains the studio’s work environment and how they function as a family. As an architect, it is rare to find studios where the entire unit functions as a whole. From the video, it is clear that the studio accommodates every architect’s needs by providing spaces where they can work on their own and together with a team. This allows every architect to work in their most comfortable medium and space to bring out creative solutions.
Architecture arouses emotions
As an architect, whenever we enter a space, we analyse how the space is, the materials used, and the effect created by the space on the users. We can see how Peter Zumthor’s knowledge and understanding have been transferred to his work. This is depicted in this video by showing a clip where he explains his discoveries during his trips and classes and a few clips of his work that illustrate his findings the best.
Peter Zumthor, a creative enthusiast
His interests in the world of literature and music are seen in the video. He does not restrict himself to a particular genre of books or music. He has listened to various music styles and understood how the musicians have evolved throughout the decades and how they are combining or refining their styles. Peter Zumthor compares this to the evolution and functioning of a physical structure and how every small detail of a structure can add up to create a masterpiece. He helps us understand how our common interests in different fields can be brought together in architecture.
Throughout the video, Peter Zumthor does not give a statement but rather guesses what could be the answer by providing a series of thoughts that lead up to the final answer. As evolving architects, we are never sure of how we will arrive at the final product. We just follow a process which we may or may not deviate from. In other documentaries, well-established architects always have a definite answer and they know how to go about their creative process. In this documentary by Peter Zumthor, what I can guarantee is that anyone who listens to this can relate to him and be inspired to take risks and climb up the ladder to success.
He understands that architecture is the art of creating buildings that reflect our personal touch, as the final design depends solely on our devotion.
I never decided to become an architect!
Not all of us have a clear decision to pursue the field of architecture from an earlier stage. Some of us are put on a different path like Peter Zumthor, and we find our way into this field and add the knowledge gained along the way to create architectural marvels. He is a living example of how, to become an architect, you must rely on experience rather than what you learn in college. He studied various farmhouses and participated in architectural competitions that provoked him to pursue the field of architecture. In brief, architecture happened to him.
He shares a few of his heartwarming and unforgettable memories and the influences of his parents on his life and design, which brings nostalgia to the listeners and makes us reflect on our lives.
Confidence- the key to success
Even though he wasn’t an architect with a degree, he was confident enough to challenge himself, openly criticize and voice out that he could do better than the architects who had designed for a competition. Peter Zumthor’s life is an inspiration to all to not give up on ourselves and our principles even if they are rejected. His design process involves breaking out of the traditional concepts and designing based on how he wants the users to feel, which then ends up being the result of combining various architectural principles.
Context + Structure
“It’s the mental surrounding, it’s the biographical surrounding, its, it’s the place where it stands…”
Peter Zumthor believes and explains why the surroundings of a built structure hold a history that has to be considered while designing a structure. There is history even in the landscape and in the buildings, which can be reflected in the materials used, construction and design.
Spirit of a space
It is easier to create new buildings. But to give purpose to an already existing space, we must first identify the spirit of a space. To recreate or repurpose a space, we need knowledge through education and personal experiences, which helps us redefine a space.
“We look first. We feel first. Then we trust our feelings and then we start to analyze our fear.”
He then talks about urbanism and correctly interprets that social values play a more vital role than philosophical values. Peter Zumthor has also worked on projects that had a direct connection to the past. To explain this, he chose one of the first projects he worked on in Switzerland. He also talks about how architecture can hold memories and how newly designed buildings should invoke them.
The entire interview was done in his studio, which makes it easier to understand the working of the studio as he describes it. From the documentary, it is clear that Peter Zumthor is a down-to-earth person and is focused on creating architecture that reflects the history of the place. He has a deep understanding of the meaning of architecture and how it has to be. In a few words, “I never decided to become an architect”, is a must-see documentary.
Louisiana Channel (Nov 30, 2015). Video title: “I never decided to become an architect” | Architect Peter Zumthor. [YouTube video]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lufVOqRWpLQ&list=PLNga7FAPqLi3EjnKNOEiofIeZRR6aYzhL&index=17. Accessed date: 03/07/2022