Known for sensuous materiality and his own mysterious, guru-like aura, Swiss architect Peter Zumthor shot into the spotlight in the mid-1990s with his Therme Vals (1996) and Kunsthaus Bregenz (1997) architectural projects. One of the 21st century’s most revered architects, Zumthor was trained in design and cabinetmaking and lays claim to a small but captivating oeuvre of furniture work.
Born in 1943 in Basel, Zumthor apprenticed as a cabinetmaker from 1958 to 1962 and went on to study architecture; first at Basel’s Kunstgewerbeschule and then at New York’s Pratt Institute. In 1967, Zumthor returned to Switzerland to work as a conservation architect in Graubünden, which further attuned his sense of craft and material. He established his own architectural practice in 1979 in Haldenstein; from there, he and his team have solidified a prestigious, international reputation atop a portfolio of highly atmospheric spaces that ignite the senses.
Beyond Therme Vals and Kunsthaus Bregenz, the firm’s most celebrated work includes Cologne’s Kolumba Art Museum (2007) and London’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (2011). Zumthor has garnered extensive formal decoration, including the 1999 Mies van der Rohe Award for European Architecture, the 2008 Praemium Imperiale, the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize, and the 2013 RIBA Royal Gold Medal.
On the furniture-side of his practice, Zumthor has been much less prolific but still active, most often developing designs for the interiors of his own buildings, such as the pews for his St. Benedict’s Chapel (1989) and his director’s-chair-style seating for the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (2011). One standout design commission is his bent mahogany, chromed tubular metal, and leather Chaise Lounge for Dieteker (2007), which echoes the classic aesthetic of the Bauhaus and Thonet.
Zumthor has held a number of teaching positions; these include professorships at Mendrisio, Switzerland’s Academy of Architecture, the University of Southern California Institute of Architecture, Munich’s Technische Universität, and Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.