In Buenos Aires ceremony, architect Peter Zumthor RAAR’08 receives 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize

ZumthorPortraitPeter Zumthor RAAR’08. Credit: Gary Ebner

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor RAAR’08 received this year’s prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize at a ceremony last Friday (29 May) in Argentina at the Legislative Palace of the City of Buenos Aires.

Zumthor, aged 66, received a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion for what is widely considered as the “Nobel Prize of architecture”. The Pritzker Prize was established in 1979 by the Pritzker family, based in Chicago, to honor a living architect whose works produce “consistent and significant contributions to humanity.”

“His buildings have a commanding presence … showing us again and again that modesty in approach and boldness in overall result are not mutually exclusive,” the Pritzker jury of architects, academics, writers and designers wrote in their citation. “Humility resides alongside strength.”

“His work commands attention and respect the world over,” jury chairman Lord Peter Palumbo said at the Buenos Aires ceremony. He added: “He is not remotely interested in the cult of celebrity. Public relations, glamour, spin are to him an anathema.”

The Pritzker jury in particular highlighted Zumthor’s (1996) thermal baths in Vals, Switzerland, a maze of pools enclosed by concrete and stone mined from the surrounding hills, and the (2007) Kolumba Museum in Cologne, a building set in the ruins of a late Gothic church destroyed in the Second World War.

ThermeBaths at Vals. Sketch by Peter Zumthor

Peter Zumthor is the fifth Pritzker laureate since the prize was established in 1979 with a connection to the American Academy in Rome, and the third who has won the award as a member of the AAR’s Society of Fellows. The others (by Pritzker Prize year) are:

2005 Thom Mayne, AAR Trustee since 2007
1991 Robert Venturi FAAR’56, RAAR’66, AAR Trustee 1969-1976
1989 Frank O. Gehry, AAR Trustee 1990-1994
1984 Richard Meier RAAR’74, AAR Trustee since 1998

Said AAR Director Carmela Vircillo Franklin, FAAR’85, RAAR’02, “I am absolutely delighted by the award of the Pritzker prize to Peter Zumthor, who was a Resident of the AAR last Spring. Peter’s lecture at the Villa Aurelia was a packed, celebrity event. It attracted the entire architectural community of Rome—many aspiring architects mobbed him after his talk to get his autograph. He served as mentor and advisor to many of our Fellows and he engaged the entire community by his presence in the Dining Room and in our programmatic events.”

Born in Basel, Switzerland, Zumthor trained for five years as a cabinet maker before beginning his university studies, which included time at New York’s Pratt Institute. In 1979 he established his practice in the small Swiss town of Haldenstein, where he works with a modest staff of about 20 people.

Zumthor received the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association in 2008 and the University of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Foundation Medal in Architecture in 2006.

0274973BPeter Zumthor at the Pritzker ceremony. Credit: Charly Diaz Azcué

Kate Goodwin, curator of the architecture program at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, interviewed Zumthor at the AAR during his Residency for Contract magazine—and found her meeting with the architect a life-changing experience.

“As I descend the broad generous staircase of the American Academy in Rome”, wrote Goodwin, “…I realize that the two-hour conversation with [Zumthor] has changed the way I look at the world. I am acutely aware of how the afternoon light softly fills the volume, bathing the white walls with a serene glow. I feel and hear the stone stairs beneath me; I am aware of my body’s movement down the slightly modest treads, of the timing of another alongside me, of the blueness of the sky visible out the high window. He makes you see the qualities of architecture and the atmosphere it creates.”

AAR Director Carmela Franklin further recalled several memorable moments from Zumthor’s Residency. “His farewell party, designed by himself, at which ladies wore blue and men wore white, was the high point of the social season on the Gianicolo. And we must never forget that he was a member of the best team fielded by the Barbarians, the team that defeated the Romans on the soccer field for the first time since the tournament was started!”

And here is Peter Zumthor in his own words…

This piece is partly based on reports by and the Associated Press.

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