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Peter Zumthor wins Royal Gold Medal

The world famous Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal 2013

Best known for his Therme Vals spa in Vals, Switzerland (1999), the 69-year-old will officially pick up the prestigious ‘lifetime recognition’ award next February.

The son of a cabinet maker, Zumthor worked as a building consultant and architectural analyst of historical villages in Graubünden’s Department for the Preservation of Monuments for more than ten years before setting up ‘his small yet powerful and uncompromising practice’ in Haldenstein in 1979.

The RIBA’s Honours Committee, which selected the Royal Gold medal winner, praised Zumthor for ‘creating highly atmospheric spaces through his mastery of light and choice of materials’.

Last year the 2009 Pritzker Prize-winner designed the Serpentine Gallery’s annual summer pavilion and is currently working on a stone and glass house in Devon for philosopher Alain de Botton’s Living Architecture holiday home scheme (see AJ 16.04.2009).

RIBA President Angela Brady, who chaired the Honours Committee which selected the Royal Gold medal winner said: ‘Peter Zumthor’s work renews the link with a tradition of modern architecture that emphasises place, community and material practice.

‘His writings dwell upon the experience of designing, building and inhabitation while his buildings are engaged in a rich dialogue with architectural history’

Click here to read an interview with Zumthor in conversation with AJ editor Christine Murray.

Peter Zumthor will be presented with the Royal Gold Medal on Wednesday 6 February 2013 at a ceremony at RIBA headquarters in London, during which the 2013 RIBA International and Honorary Fellowships will also be presented. 

This year’s RIBA Honours Committee was chaired by RIBA President Angela Brady with architects Peter Clegg, Yvonne Farrell, Professor Adrian Forty, Niall McLaughlin and Sarah Wigglesworth.

Peter Zumthor's Therme Spa in Vals, Switzerland as featured in Vogue 1997

Peter Zumthor’s Therme Spa in Vals, Switzerland as featured in Vogue 1997

Peter Zumthor - factfile

The 69-year-old was born in Basel in 1943 and trained as a cabinet maker at his father’s shop. From 1963-67, he trained as a designer and architect at the Kunstgewerbeschule Basel and at the Pratt Institute in New York.

In 1967, he was employed by the Canton of Graubünden, Switzerland in the Department for the Preservation of Monuments working as a building and planning consultant and architectural analyst of historical villages. He established his own practice in 1979 in Haldenstein, Switzerland where he still works with a staff of 30.

He was 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.

From 1996-2008 he was a professor at the Academy of Architecture, Universitá della Svizzera Italiana, Mendrisio.

His major buildings are: Protective Housing for Roman Archaeological Excavations, Chur, Switzerland, 1986; Sogn Benedetg Chapel, Sumvitg, Switzerland, 1988; Gugalun House, Versam, Switzerland, 1994; Therme Vals, Switzerland, 1996; Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria, 1997; Swiss Sound Box, Swiss Pavilion, Expo 2000, Hanover,

Germany, 2000; Kolumba Art Museum, Cologne, Germany, 2007; Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, Wachendorf, Germany, 2007, Steilneset, Memorial for the Victims of the Witch Trials in the Finnmark, Vardø, Norway, 2011, and the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, London, England, 2011.

His many awards include the Heinrich Tessenow Medal, Technical University, Hanover, 1989; Carlsberg Architectural Prize, Copenhagen, 1998; Bündner Kulturpreis, Graubünden, 1998; Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture, Barcelona, 1998; Spirit of Nature Wood Architecture Award, Wood in Culture Association, Finland, 2006; Prix Meret Oppenheim, Federal Office of Culture, Switzerland, 2006; Praemium Imperiale, Japan Art Association, 2008; DAM Prize for Architecture in Germany, 2008 and The Pritzker Architecture Prize, The Hyatt Foundation, 2009.

In his book Thinking Architecture, published by Birkhauser, Zumthor set down in his own words a philosophy of architecture: “I believe that architecture today needs to reflect on the tasks and possibilities which are inherently its own. Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence. In a society that celebrates the inessential, architecture can put up a resistance, counteract the waste of forms and meanings, and speak its own language. I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and critically as they can.”

Readers' comments (1)

  • Zumthor has done some great work and he deserves this. The Bruder Klaus Chapel is truly a piece of art - never seen anything like it.

    I still remember the spread that Vogue did of the Therme Spa in Vals - very well-done.

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