Swiss architect Zumthor wins coveted Pritzker

Mon Apr 13, 2009 1:47pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, a designer who spurns the limelight while creating a handful of meticulously crafted buildings at his alpine retreat, won his profession's top honor on Sunday, the Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Zumthor, 65, becomes the third native of Switzerland to receive what is sometimes described as the architecture world's equivalent of the Nobel Prize.

Many of Zumthor's works dot the mountainous canton where he has lived and worked for the past 30 years, including his best-known project, Therme Vals. The luxury spa, which opened in 1996 after a decade of work, consists of 60,000 precision-cut quartzite stone slabs built into a hillside surrounded by soaring peaks.

A pair of works in Germany evoke a similar spirituality: the Kolumba art museum in Cologne and an austere chapel on a nearby farm. In Austria, he designed the lakefront Kunsthaus Bregenz museum, which looks like a lamp from the outside.

But Zumthor has no completed projects in either the United States or Britain. And he eschews large commercial buildings and high-priced vanity projects.

"If I ever do a mountain lodge for a wealthy person, for him it's just a mountain lodge, and for me it will be three years out of my life. So I have to be careful," Zumthor told Reuters.

The scarcity of his oeuvre, and the years of work that he puts into each project, has made him something of a hero in an industry where celebrity architects win headlines and lucrative commissions for what he described as "beautiful images."

"I'm more about the real stuff, about substance," Zumthor said. "That's why I take a little bit longer."   Continued...

<p>Swiss architect Peter Zumthor as seen in this handout photograph. REUTERS/HO/Gary Ebner</p>