Where it all began: Photographing Zumthor
August 4, 2019
Rewind fifteen years, when I was still fresh-faced and figuring out what solid-and-voidmeant at architecture school, I became excited with the work of various past-and-current hero figures in the architectural world. The Swiss architect Peter Zumthor caught my attention in particular. The obvious attraction is in his work, he has a real craftsmanship approach of selecting and sculpting local materials and working with natural light. But there’s something deeper than that, perhaps it’s his mysterious persona while whittling quietly away at his models in his secluded atelier tucked away in the Swiss Alps, yet he’s a starchitect and known to all.
Towards the tail end of my studies, his work became more relevant than ever. I could relate well to Zumthor’s design fundamentals, which led to a spontaneous trip during my semester break to encounter his work in the flesh. The previous year a school mate and I had spent the summer months in South East Asia lounging on beaches and swinging from vines in jungles. My father had bought me a digital SLR camera shortly before we jetted off and I spent every waking moment on that trip obsessing over my shiny new camera. It was the first thing I had packed as I prepared for Switzerland a year later.
I reviewed the images that I captured and came to realise how photography was also going to be an important medium in my studies and not just for jollies in the sunshine. The atmosphere that I could see in the photographs came about from the play of soft light and deep shadow. It gave the spaces - as well as the images - a focus to where the eye is drawn to. I loved it - especially capturing light and people in spaces that are created by talented individuals. My 48-hour whirlwind Zumthor tour ignited a fire that is still burning brightly a decade on. I can’t help but contemplate whether I should return this Christmas to mark the anniversary.