It has been claimed here and there that architecture like design is about light, sound and matters. But architectural production is not just artefacts. According to Peter Zumthor as related by the excellent FT specialist, Edwin Heathcote, architecture is to make a place.
– PZ’s current Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 in London, with extensive press coverage and one interview.
– EH’s article The unplugged pavilion in FT WE (2011-07-01, unfortunately access under subscription) :
His recent work embraces strange pieces of constructed magic, such as the memorial to women murdered as witches in the bleak arctic landscape of northern Norway and a chapel to the eccentric visionary hermit-saint Bruder Klaus in a field outside Mechernich in Germany.
What he has designed for the Serpentine is, in many ways, just as strange. A mute black container lurks outside the dainty brick-built gallery. On entering you are confronted with a sinister dark corridor and then, suddenly, a splash of colour in the rich mix of meadow flowers and plants at its courtyard centre, a canopy of sky above. The building has the dark, light-absorbing angularity of a stealth bomber but at its heart is pure delight; a garden within a garden, the planting conceived by the Dutch landscape architect Piet Oudolf, whose work along New York’s High Line park has created an entirely new natural layer in Manhattan. “How could you do something where you are not looking at nature,” Zumthor explains, “but nature is looking at you? Where you can become part of it? This is not a pop-up Chelsea Flower Show but a collection of ordinary plants you’d find in your garden or that might sprout up in an alley.”
In the heat of London’s hottest day this year, the garden really does appear like a retreat, a shady glimpse of something other. But, with the snapping of lenses, the aggressive jostling for media position and the thrusting of microphones, this isn’t, perhaps, the perfect day to experience it. Then again, will any day be? These pavilions have become so popular, so keenly anticipated, that the idea of this place becoming a refuge is perhaps a little hopeful – though it is being opened at dawn every day through the summer. Get there early if you want contemplative.
His buildings have made such an impact because they affect us in a way we have become unused to. His pavilion too is as unsettling as it is enigmatic, dark, concealed, strange. I was wary of how an architect such as Zumthor, who deals in a kind of permanence, with a deep connection to the earth and the place, would cope with such a weightless brief. His response has been the hardest thing in architecture – to make a place.