The mystery of Peter Zumthor | Sergio de Miguel

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Bruder Klaus Field Chapel, by Peter Zumthor, 2007

It said  that Kandinsky enjoyed of the gift of the synaesthesia. This quality by which the senses go in in communication. By which, for example, comes us  to the mind an image when we listen a determinate music, or by which remember an aroma when we are in a determinate place. He applied it to the painting. That was his job. And from his particular condition tried objetivizar his aesthetic experiences. The reason of the “temperature” of a colour, or the “meaning” of a form. Of this does almost a century, therefore, today no longer surprises us. After the audiovisual revolution that has accompanied us in the last times all have learnt to be “synaesthesiac” somehow.

It does no too time a student showed a copy of a plane. It treated  of a plant exquisitamente drawn. In her they had  two pieces of very different size. The big was a rectangular piece particularly slim. The small was a squared slightly turned that it approximated  to one of the long sides of the piece of main size, roughly in the third of his length, directing his diagonal to the point where practised  a small abertura, definitely the access. The square, very vahído,  oponía to the rectangle of porous appearance and of big nitidez, enfatizando with his contrast the point of entrance. The big ship was composed, to his time, by distinct enclosures inside the main perimeter, shut all they by walls of obsessive discontinuous line. The square, shut what seemed the representation of a ruin. It completed the escueta planimetry a representation geometrizada of a terrain levemente emergent invaded by the longitudinal piece. A definitely enigmatic drawing but appeal.

– Zumthor-, the pupil limited himself to saying with a small shrug of shoulders, as if he should not need any more explanation. That there we were, on having noticed, we share for a brief instant an attentive silence. That drawing had wisdom. It had goblin. It was provoking respect.

– Zumthor-, I thought, it declaring slow and with cavernous voice it might be the name of a magician of turban, tunic and penetrating eyes.

That plant was turning out to be interesting. To his intense simplicity and formal economy it was necessary to add his great precision, his round premeditation, certainly slightly current. Still when it was very abstract it had a clear constructive thought and an eloquent sense of the density. It was very suggestive.

It was a question of the plant of the Contest for the Center of documentation and international exhibition called “Topography of the Terror” in Berlin. In the place where there got up, between 1933 and 1945, the administrative principal center of the National Socialist regime, “sancta sanctorum” of the power Nazi.

On having consulted other drawings the offer is understood. His warp of supports and girders of wood, of vertical appearance in the ship and horizontal in the small bucket of the ruin, his different rooms emptied in the continuous one of structure. But the really important thing is the formal and constructive strategy of this plant. What this way of constructing allows “to  recall” .

For the pioneer Kandinsky the vertical “hot” age and the horizontal “cold” age. For Zumthor question as the “temperature” I guess that they are more related to the use of the material, to the lights and the shades, to the texture and to aspects as the density or the quantity of matter that with the mere disposition in the space. It is more, I think that there is perceived by clarity that the content of the set of the formal realized operations is directed to make by simplicity a certain atmosphere, a place of concrete characteristics, a dialog of meetings capablly of suggesting emotions and sensations. More that meant, his architecture is directed to connect “synaesthesia” the spectator by a different reality.

And understanding it this way it is precisely when the dramatic title of the project is recognized in these drawings:

-“Topography of the Terror”-.

It is at the time when Zumthor’s work starts revealing his mysterious intentions, the porqué of his surprising results.

The exagerate relation of size between the pieces, the deliberate contrast between the vertical texture and the formal horizontalidad of the ship, the party darkness of the bucket opposite to the radiant clarity of the principal piece, the soft waviness of the area and the linearity of the constructions, the will to liberate emptinesses across the creation of clumps, they do that Zumthor’s project is a touching symphony of examinations, an abstract composition of lights, forms and materials that manages to shoot the springs of the memory more than of the interpretation. Because, really, this project us carries back more to the world of the recollection, to the universe of the fixed sensations, that to the uncertain field of the objective comprehension, so often unnecessarily.

Are we opposite to an architecture escenográfica? Because similar words might be said of the stony building of thermal baths in Waltz, or of the glassy museum in Bregenz. Are we opposite to a conjurer, opposite to an illusionist, seduced by a magician of the architectural fantasy? His architecture hypnotizes us with the force of the contrast, with his know-how in the composition of pairs of objected, with his language of intense vocabulary.

But especially, his architecture forces us to travel in the recollection, leads us to experiencing again already lived sensations, his volumes transport us to the recognition of experiences that they have to see with what every building wants to be.

Zumthor us reveals part of his secret: his architecture is based on the abstraction of images pure and directed the recognition of the recollections, he writes:

“When I think about architecture, the images come to my mind. Many of these images are connected by my formation and work as architect. They contain the professional knowledge on the architecture that I have gathered across the years. They have to see others with my infancy. With the time on which it was experimenting with the architecture without thinking it brings over of her. Often I can still feel a concrete drawer in my hand, or a metal piece with the form of the part of behind of a spoon.

Soil realize it when I go to the garden of my aunt. This drawer of the door is still looking alike a special sign of that I enter a world of different states of mind and smells. I remember the sound of the gravel under my feet, the soft crackle of the waxed stairs of oak. I can hear the heavy door of access being closed besides me according to tender for the dark corridor and I enter the kitchen, the only stay really illuminated of the house. […]

Recollections like these are those that contain the deepest architectural experience that I know. They are the reservation of the architectural atmospheres and the images that I explore in my work as architect.”

Kandinsky, in his day, devoted himself to the difficult assignment of objetivizar the process of looking, beyond practising the painting. Zumthor, today, does not seem that it wants with his architecture to speak about architecture, not at least of yes same, but to find a way of establishing links between the presence and the memory, definitively, between the tangible thing and the intangible thing.

Sergio de Miguel, architect
Madrid, juny 2010

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