Peter Zumthor Becomes the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Peter Zumthor, 65, of Switzerland is the 2009 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The formal ceremony for the prize, which has been called architecture’s highest honor, will take place May 29 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At that time, a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion will be bestowed on Zumthor.In announcing the jury’s choice, Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, quoted from the jury citation, “Peter Zumthor is a master architect admired by his colleagues around the world for work that is focused, uncompromising and exceptionally determined.” He added, “All of Peter Zumthor’s buildings have a strong, timeless presence. He has a rare talent of combining clear and rigorous thought with a truly poetic dimension, resulting in works that never cease to inspire.”

“Being awarded the Pritzker Prize is a wonderful recognition of the architectural work we have done in the last 20 years,” said Zumthor. “That a body of work as small as ours is recognized in the professional world makes us feel proud and should give much hope to young professionals that if they strive for quality in their work it might become visible without any special promotion.”

In his book, Thinking Architecture, Zumthor writes: “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.”

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, The Lord Palumbo elaborated with more of the citation: “Zumthor has a keen ability to create places that are much more than a single building. His architecture expresses respect for the primacy of the site, the legacy of a local culture and the invaluable lessons of architectural history.” He continued, “In Zumthor’s skillful hands, like those of the consummate craftsman, materials from cedar shingles to sandblasted glass are used in a way that celebrates their own unique qualities, all in the service of an architecture of permanence.”

The Art Museum in Bregenz, Austria, is just one example of Zumthor’s work that features an extensive use of glass.

“Initially we planned to direct daylight into the building through obliquely placed façade slats. Tested on models, this solution proved unsatisfactory,” says Zumthor. “The best results were obtained by using etched glass shingles that refract the light before it enters the building. No matter what direction the light is coming from, it is always transmitted horizontally into the interior. Therefore, we placed a cavity above every floor to catch the light coming in from all four sides.”

He continues, “And now, once again, we exploited the ability of the etched glass to diffuse the light; it strikes the glass ceiling and is deflected down into each exhibition gallery. To encourage a special form of concentration on the four stacked exhibition floors, the building was designed without windows. And yet daylight is everywhere.” The museum’s glass walls can also serve as billboards or video screens.

The Pritzker Architecture Prize was created to honor a living architect annually whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.

The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the world, also because architecture was a creative endeavor not included in the Nobel Prizes.

The procedures were modeled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered annually.