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Tuesday29 July 2014

Zumthor is a worthy medal winner

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This year’s RIBA Royal Gold Medal recognises its winner’s creative individualism

Ellis Woodman

Ellis Woodman- Executive Editor

“Hasn’t he had it already?” responded one BD staff member to the news that Peter Zumthor has been awarded this year’s Royal Gold Medal. It was an understandable reaction. If the Gold Medal is there to recognise mastery in the field of architecture, Zumthor’s claim on the award is surely long overdue.

It has been a career played out very much on his own terms. Zumthor’s oeuvre is modest in scale, but it is the product of a level of control that is the envy of many of his contemporaries. Working from the village of Haldenstein, he has never employed more than 30 people and has consistently turned down potential commissions if he felt they didn’t offer sufficient creative opportunities.

If there is a criticism that might be levelled at his position, it is that it is rarified to the point of marginality. There is no Zumthor office block and only one housing scheme, but he has built a thermal bath, a couple of pilgrimage chapels and, on a remote Norwegian island, a memorial to women burnt as witches. He makes a somewhat problematic role model.

Nonetheless, Zumthor remains a manifestly great architect, whose work has much to teach about the craft and poetry of architecture. He is a very deserving winner.

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