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Great Detail: Meredith Bowles on Peter Zumthor’s Sumvitg chapel entrance

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The next in a series looking at the building details that have impressed and inspired our readers. Today: Meredith Bowles from Mole Architects

Architect Peter Zumthor
Building Entrance to Saint Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg, Switzerland (1988)

Meredith boles detail index

Meredith boles detail index

Source: Peter Zumthor 1985-1989, Buildings and Projects Volume 1, Sheidegger & Spiess

Detail of Peter Zumthor’s St Benedict Chapel, Sumvitg


Zumthor sumvitg chapel

Zumthor sumvitg chapel

The entrance to Peter Zumthor’s chapel at Sumvitg

This is a detail I think about every time I return home to the Black House, whose entrance was designed after visiting this building.

The chapel at Sumvitg is exquisite, and rich in meaning for such an apparently simple building. It’s tiny; a village chapel. It has the familiar feeling of many simple parish chapels, with a single space, benches facing an altar table, but every detail is designed to make the experience of the chapel richer and more meaningful.

Mole black house

Mole black house

The Black House by Mole Architects

The entry is beautifully thought through; a cast block of concrete is anchored to the ground, and sits beside the wooden chapel. It has five steps and a platform, and the visitor is guided by the finest of steel rails. The fragility of these is noted as we ascend. The door is extended from the body of the church, the thin copper roof extending to form the drip. The smooth timber cheeks of the doorway contrast with the rough shingle skin, and taper to a fine edge. Within this opening a finely slatted door contrasts with a steel handle that looks to be forged rather than cast, conveying a sense of centuries of entry to this place of worship; the building replaces a previous chapel destroyed by an avalanche.

The moment of entry is completed as we step off the concrete, on to the wooden platform, while grasping the handle and swinging open the door. We are leaving terra firma and entering the ark.

Meredith Bowles is founder of Mole Architects. Meredith recently spoke at the launch of the 2017 AJ Small Projects Awards, which are open for entry

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