dark side of the moon - peter zumthor

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    bruder klaus kapelle, germany, completed 2007.
    architect: peter zumthor, b.1943

    by nature architecture is a spiritual discipline, reflecting our values, ideas, aspirations. to the trained or sensitive eye, buildings give their makers away, expressing even their greed, opportunism, their base materialism if nothing better is on offer.

    we perceive this instinctively for the most part, but with religious buildings everybody looks for meaning. in answer, zumthor offers a refined little riddle of a building, at all stages offering us clues, at no time displaying overt symbolism.

    the interior concrete surface of the chapel makes the old brutalists look a little timid by comparison. as they would have appreciated, it reflects the process of construction, an aspect of architecture neglected by most architects today.

    in life, we are judged by our actions, and architecture, as ruskin taught us long ago when he established the moral superiority of gothic based on the working conditions of its artisan builders, is no different.

    for the chapel, zumthor developed a primitive building technique which could be - as I have understood it - executed by the people expected to use it afterwards.

    trees felled in the vicinity were tied together in a tee-pee shape which became the inner formwork, triangular in section. the outer formwork was a much simpler vertical slipform. a dry concrete mortar was stamped into the cavity between the two forms. finally, a slow-burning fire was lit on the floor, drying out and shrinking the tree trunks, disengaging them but at the same time blackening the walls.

    the process is explained much better here.

    the building you meet is less primitive than its construction. I was immediately struck by the concrete. the technology of using dry mortar is roman in origin and that seemed a perfect starting point for what is essentially a roman catholic shrine. when the door was opened, the dark triangular space seemed to tell a very different story. "gothic", was my first thought but then, as my eyes grew accustomed to the dark, the imprint of the tree trunks took on an overpowering presence, reminding me of roman descriptions of meetings with their germanic neighbours and how the kings would hold court in simple log houses.

    I don't believe there is a linear narrative waiting to be uncovered in the succession of apparent contradictions but there is a sense of being connected with the entire history of architecture, of witnessing a dialogue through time, in the way some of louis kahn's or utzon's buildings do.

    if anything, the almost violent texture of the torched concrete brings us closer to certain conditions in modern art - zumthor has mentioned the arte povera movement as an inspiration.

    again, thanks to chris for making us go out there.

    more zumthor.
    more words, yada, yada, yada.

    this photo was uploaded with a CC license and may be used free of charge and in any way you see fit.
    if possible, please name photographer "SEIER+SEIER".
    if not, don't.

    hawktrainer, XOSI RA, ken mccown, and 104 other people added this photo to their favorites.

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    1. schromann 58 months ago | reply

      I like the fact that if you search for "Zumthor" here on flickr, 9 of the images on the first page are from you, this one being the first that pops up at all........ Well deserved, I might add again.

    2. seier+seier 58 months ago | reply

      it may well come from being the son of a librarian, I have to figure out the system before filing, so to speak...

      regarding zumthor, the thing that keeps returning to my mind these days is why the swedes didn't just give the woodland cemetery job to him. he is the only architect alive who could actually place a new building near asplund's...

    3. davidp75 57 months ago | reply

      What an incredible space!

    4. Chris Bowes : McGregor Bowes 48 months ago | reply

      Lovely shot! It really captures the essence of the space.

    5. seier+seier 48 months ago | reply

      thanks chris :)

    6. This is concrete 46 months ago | reply

      Truly beautiful.

    7. Cloudar 44 months ago | reply

      Fascinating space!

    8. thewritingreader 30 months ago | reply

      Love the mystery of this. Thank you for sharing it via Creative Commons. I used it in my blog article here: www.thewritingreader.com/blog/2011/10/29/prompt-139-first... and linked back to you.

    9. seier+seier 30 months ago | reply

      you are welcome, and thanks for linking back.

    10. schromann 27 months ago | reply

      After having finally been there myself, I had to come back to this image, as it was always present with me while I was there. For me, this one image captures the essence of the space like no other.......the roughness, the precision, the materials, the light, the darkness, the mystery, interior as well as exterior, the changing weather and time of day........one could go on and on. The whole building is so full of opposing qualities it is exhausting to list them all, but it is also precisely that which makes it come alive.

    11. seier+seier 26 months ago | reply

      thanks, chris.

      I liked your photos very much, not least the idea of going black and white.

      right now, I cannot get over the observation in a comment to your photos that you enter through a triangular door under an 'all-seeing eye', potential masonic symbolism which for some reason I did not respond to when I was there.

    12. schromann 26 months ago | reply

      I *can't* believe you didn't see that. Talk about obvious....pffft.


    13. seier+seier 26 months ago | reply

      actually, I hope this reading is wrong. it would make the symbolism "flat".

    14. schromann 26 months ago | reply

      Of course I didn't see it either, but now that I do, it is hard not to think about it. On the other hand, critics often read tons of things into an object which the 'artist' had never thought of:

      Once during school, some friends and I took offense at the stairwell in the factuly of architecture where every landing had a door except one where the level was twice the normal height. So we 'painted' a door there and installed the necessary hardware, like a handle and closing mechanism, and framed it with the typical pinboards and fire-extinguisher etc. Of course, everybody fell for it and it was great seeing people pulling on the handle and realizing they'd been had or waiting in front of it so that 'somebody would open the door from the other side and let them through'. They would even look through the little window we had painted.

      To make a long story even longer, the best part was (besides when I fell for it myself) when I went through there only to find an entire class of art-history students gathered in the stairwell with the prof. asking the class what they felt the artist was trying to say with this work of art?? One student was so brave as to suggest that, "they just wanted to have some fun and play a good prank", which the teacher simply scoffed at. It wasn't even allowed to be an option.

      Maybe Zumthor is chuckling too, while reading our theories.

    15. seier+seier 26 months ago | reply

      I find it difficult to imagine zumthor surfing the internet. zumthor going, 'ah, boobs!'

      great story from your school days. did you really fall for your own prank? the care you must have taken with details to fool yourself :)

      but I have to say that I would not read a critic who did not "read tons of things into an object which the 'artist' had never thought of".

      the work knows more than its artist, so to speak. from the culture it came out of, from the outside forces that helped shape it. from the fact that we rarely have a fully formed philosophical essay on why a certain path is the right one. from the fact that we lie to ourselves and each other. from the fact that architects always try to sell themselves. from the fact that the life of a building will disclose truths unimagined by anyone.

    16. schromann 26 months ago | reply

      A moment of silence, please (like the pregnant quiet before an audience errupts in applause).

      Very well said. How true.

      And yes......... I was dog-tired, but I really did.

    17. seier+seier 26 months ago | reply

      well, I have tried something similar when I helped set my wife up for her hen night/bachelorette party. stress or tiredness will do that.

      and I guess zumthor would say 'Ach, boobs' :)

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