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Making Place: The Architecture of Peter Zumthor

Part 2 Dissertation 2004
Susannah Evans
Kingston University Kingston-Upon-Thames UK
With this dissertation I wanted to explore the notion of ‘place’ and its fundamental role in the making of architecture. It was the architecture of Peter Zumthor, which I had recently experienced first hand, that inspired me towards this exploration – a distinctly modern architecture that conveys a profound sense of belonging to a site and situation. It soon became apparent that, in order to discuss the specific works I needed first to consider at some length what ‘place’ actually means, and how man’s mental understanding of place has underpinned his physical experience of the world through history. The shifts in this understanding, from archaic times to modernity, offer insights into the dramatic changes western culture has undergone in terms of its relationship to nature and its position in the world. What is particularly interesting in the context of this dissertation, however, is the thread of continuity that has endured throughout these changes, pointing towards a fundamental condition of ‘place’ that transcends historical vicissitudes. It is this condition that I have then attempted to read into Zumthor’s work – focusing on three projects, in Switzerland and Germany. My conclusion is that Peter Zumthor’s architecture, through a dialectic of ideas and materiality specific to each project, succeeds in offering his buildings back to place, hoping to render them part of the world rather than as a defence against it.
Susannah Evans


Susannah’s dissertation is a remarkable undertaking: in order to discuss a contemporary architect’s work she identifies the need to understand the idea of ‘place’ in depth, and proceeds with an investigation that impresses with both its scope and precision. This intellectual mapping does not attempt to be comprehensive – an impossible and irrelevant task in any case – but strives to offer a meaningful context for a situated interpretation of Zumthor’s work, beyond style and conceptual abstractions. At a time when fragmentation and difference dominate culture, Susannah chooses the arduous task of persisting with continuity and relevance, with highly commendable results.

2004
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