15 junio, 2018

Zumthor, between the sensory and the rational

To speak of Peter Zumthor (Basilea, 1943) is to speak of purity. And to speak of purity, dear reader, is as paradoxical as impossible; so much so that even the best text I could possibly write, would be clumsy and blurry before the powerful presence of this Swiss genius’s indescribable work.

Trained as a cabinet maker, designer and architect, Zumthor’s work strikes a perfect balance between passion and critical reason, memories of life experiences and reflexive knowledge, the profound and intuitive architecture of memory and that which is learned through practical experience; an architecture of architectures with pure materials and continuous, well defined spaces in mind; uncompromisingly simple yet fascinatingly mysterious. An architecture pregnant with truths difficult to express but easy to feel.


Because the feeling Zumthor has searched for incessantly, more expected in other disciplines like painting or music, that which makes your hair stand on end and creates a tightness in your chest, is common to most mortals. And Zumthor is aware of that. And is also aware that it takes time to find it. It requires taking the time, as Luis Barragan also realized, to comprehend that which outlives its time.

Time to discover what it is that maintains nostalgia alive and feeds memories. The memories of infancy that inevitably, second by second, lead us into adulthood, more or less conscious of our experiences. Memories; our intuitive impressions. All of this plus thought, come together to create the serene perfection of his architecture; calm, silent, magic. Once and again, the truth; mountains, stones, water, like in the Spa at Vals. Art, the sacred and the memory, as in the Kolumba Museum. Earth, light and soil, as seen in the Bruder Klaus Chapel. Yes, once and again, truth. Beauty, as seen in his architecture, seemingly unconscious of past and present… suspended in time. Because beyond formal or aesthetic configurations, beyond originality or novelty, revolutionary or provocative; beyond all of this are the true things which move us. As Zumthor himself writes in his book “Thinking about Architecture”, “an architectural work can have artistic qualities if their various forms and content flow in a strong atmosphere capable of moving us. This art […] is about inner vision, understanding and, especially… the truth. And maybe the truth, unexpectedly, is poetry.”

I think it is clear; to speak about Peter Zumthor is to speak about purity. And speaking about purity, just in case you haven’t noticed, is probably a non-productive exercise. Purity isn’t a thought, it’s a feeling. Pureness isn’t explained, it is lived. That which is pure can’t be judged by aesthetic tendencies nor time-specific thinking. Purity is out of time. It is moving, magic. Purity, beloved reader, is a gut feeling and it marks us for life.

Like our first kiss.
Or like our first verse.

Written by Luis Castillo. Translated by Barbara Sheehy.

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