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Tuesday22 August 2017

Me, Peter Zumthor, and my broken sandal

From: Amanda Baillieu’s blog

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It was without doubt the best ‘freebie’ I’d ever been on.

In 2002 the Swiss Embassy in London invited several journalists to see its national exhibition Expo 02.  As well as the Expo itself which was based around the lake shores of Biel Morat, Neuchatel and Yverdon-les-Bains the trip included a night at the Vals spa, dinner with its architect  Peter Zumthor, and quick detour south to Mario Botta’s office before heading to Basel.

Zumthor turned up at the spa after dinner. All of us save a well known architect who’d be sent by a magazine (to spare his embarrassment  I won’t say who it was) were rather in awe of  Zumthor and listened dutifully as he told us the story of Vals, and why he didn’t accept architecture prizes (of which more another time).

As the evening wore on and Zumthor kept the wine and beer coming, the architect from London began pouring out his heart – much to our embarrassment - about Camden Council and its failure to recognise and support great architecture. We were all glad when he staggered off to bed and at that point two of us (myself and the late Giles Worsley) decided we’d skip Botta and go on a Zumtor pilgrimage starting with his office, and meet the group in Basel the next day.

Zumthor said he’d see us, and gave us the office address and a bus timetable. We’d also planned in to take in his church at Sumvitg, ending up at Chur where we’d take the train to Basel to see his Spittelhof  housing estate.

Naturally, the buses all arrived on time and from memory I think we had to take at least two to reach Haldenstein where his studio is based For some reason the bus dropped us outside the town and we had to walk . It was very hot and one of my sandals broke. I remember it made the walk seem much longer than it probably was.

As we approached the main village square with my flapping sandal I realised that although we had an address we didn’t know which end of town to aim for . I couldn’t walk any further and decided to ask the first person  we came across how to find Zumthor’s studio.

We were also hungry and the town (it seemed like a village) was remarkably quiet. I saw a woman leading a large cow down the street with a bell around its neck. She looked like a local so I said :  ‘I am looking for Herr Zumthor’s studio‘, holding the address which he’d given me the night before.

She pointed to a wooden building opposite the street where we were standing. ‘Herr Zumthor is having his lunch. You have to wait.‘ And then she trundled off with her cow, with its bell ringing.

We sat outside his studio for an hour and then knocked on the door.. A man who looked like he had a bit part in Jesus Christ Superstar came to the door. ‘Your sandal is broken’ he said looking at my feet.

He was bare foot so I it was obviously OK to take your shoes off which I did and they were taken away. 

Then Zumthor appeared holding a bottle of what looked like milk. We were taken through to the garden. I can’t remember what we talked about because I was worried that I might have to get all the way to Basel without any shoes. After 30 minutes it was clear our time was up and just as we were about to leave my sandal appeared, mended. 

Readers' comments (3)

  • Good story, not least because you've reminded me of the lovely Giles Worsley, always a good companion.

    Did you ever find out what was in Zumthor's 'bottle of what looked like milk'?

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  • amanda baillieu

    Hi Hugh. I think it was yogurt

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  • Munter Roe

    Herr Zumthor's got life figured out.

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