The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) awarded renowned Swiss architect Peter Zumthor the prestigious Royal Gold Medal at a ceremony in London earlier this month, presented by RIBA President Angela Brady.
Given in recognition of a lifetime’s work, the Royal Gold Medal is approved personally by Her Majesty the Queen and is given to a person or group of people who have had a significant influence either directly or indirectly on the advancement of architecture.
“Peter Zumthor’s work renews the link with a tradition of modern architecture that emphasizes place, community and material practice,” said Brady. “His writings dwell upon the experience of designing, building and inhabitation while his buildings are engaged in a rich dialogue with architectural history.”
Zumthor 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.
Known for running a small yet powerful and uncompromising practice, Zumthor founded his award-winning firm in 1979 in Switzerland. His most celebrated projects include the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, the Therme Vals (thermal baths) in Vals, Switzerland and the Kolumba Art Museum in Cologne.
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.
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.”
This year’s RIBA Honors Committee was chaired by Brady, along with architects Peter Clegg, Yvonne Farrell, Professor Adrian Forty, Niall McLaughlin and Sarah Wigglesworth.