Critically on Zumthor’s “Thinking Architecture”

Giorgione_-_Sleeping_Venus_-_Google_Art_Project_2Recent Pritzker’s Prize laureate Peter Zumthor wrote the book, which regardless country or boot’s size is praised in architecture schools around the globe. All professors and all teachers speak along “And before you start making your funny, deprived from the practical function models, take your time to look at “Thinking Architecture” if you want to regard yourself as an architect.”


There is something in this book what have drawn the academics to it, but what? Perhaps this sudden uproar is only matter of fashion; can it be expected to become in the future alike the classical masterpiece of writing on archtiecture, “Experiencing Archtiecture” by Prof. Rasmussen? I dare to realize that “classical” may be the key word to case…

Let’s take a look at the most famous chapter of our book, “The Hard Core of beauty”. Maybe it’s only my impression but doesn’t the title sound familiar to the Renaissance of turning art into scientific subject? Didn’t humanity already once tried to neglect the previous period’s expressivness, by finding inspiration in the eternal beauty of nature?

“I feel (…) that beauty lies in natural, grown things that do not carry any signs or messages, (…)” said Peter. But wait… what? That’s exactly what they have done! Have people, although hundreds of years made no further reflection? Just next and next generations of creators are trying to sell the same thing? It is not even flattering nature for it’s timlessness; “not to stir up emotions with buildings, (…) but to allow emotions to emerge, to be” – it’s just marketing; decorated in complicated sentences and vague terms and we are getting feeling that we are witnesses of some eternal wisdom. But we are not – we’re only given the new, same product.

This mental stagnation was visible throughout the ages. Here is Giorgione and his “Sleeping Venus”. Look at its calmness, look at harmony, look at the pure appreciation of “naturally grown” things (what’s wrong?- if He can do do it, I can as well) which are beautiful just as they are. That’s right here lies the beauty. Let’s now turn into the corner, where hangs Ingres’s “The Source”. Look at its calmness, look at harmony, look at… uh, have we just returned to the same point? No, keep calm, it’s not a curator’s mistake, actually he is standing and sighing next to us. Squint your eyes and make a few steps away-can you now see the mistification?

There is Renaissance. What Giorgione did was innovative, because (most probably) inspired by listening to lyrical music and looking at calmness of landscape, had an idea to capture the truth lying behind objects he had seen, therefore becoming the first one to do it. If now, you want to be a splendid creator, same as Giorgione, you just can’t listen and see and think in the same categories, because it gets us nowhere. It just teaches us nothing new.

Nothing new Peter have you found. And now you are daring to sell it to us?

On page 29 you are referring to the interview with the contemporary poet William Carlos Williams, but in what purpose? To dress the old in new clothes? “And then I learned from the radio program that the poetry of William Carlos Williams is based on the conviction that there are no ideas except in the things themselves, and that the purpose of his art…

“except in the things themselves”

Reneissance inspiration nature influancing architecture. Beauty did from pure objects. Archtiecture from purity. No,… pure object digested. Geometry. Harmony and proportions. It;s not natural. Then their architecture really didn’t praise nature, but used it only as an inspiration. Also Gaudi was inspired by nature, but to what extent? Antonio Gaudi’s buildings look vividly like something what must have naturally grown up. But his materials haven’t grown naturally. His materials were artificial. Now, thinking about Zumthor, he actually uses natural materials, materials which praise nature, at its most raw state and without arbitrary making them part of some other message.


Let’s collect our data one more time; Peter Zumthor is a contemporary architect whose philosophy is to build with raw materials. That is because materials have its own language and should be deprived any additional messages which vague their natural value. I have to admit that it’s a powerful, minimalistic way of thinking. It makes me renew my previous point of view; he is the architect who brings something new to humanity.

Not only nature but also something else inspired Zumthor, what is common to both him and the Renaissance masters. I mean the opposition to noisy and incoherent expressivness of the contemporary architectue, just as in the XIV century the intellectuals opposed to the Gothic style.

The beauty lies in stone, wood, bricks, grass and trees, time and life and they do not need any additional meaning. That’s because they are now just the same, as they were yesterday, and as they will be tomorrow.


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