Multiplicity and Memory: Talking About Architecture with Peter Zumthor
By Nico Saieh — Filed under: ArchDaily Interviews ,Featured , Peter Zumthor
Peter Zumthor - Courtesy of Marco Masetti（卒姆托，马克·马赛迪摄）
This interview was completely conducted and translated by Marco Masetti, done as his bachelor’s degree thesis in Italy.
The idea of multiplicity is innate in Peter Zumthor’s projects since his very first works: works of art surrounding us put on various meanings, which do not always remain on parallel levels combining well with dialectical relationships. The vague is planned strictly, holding by the rules of the architectural language. Beauty is in the undetermined, the multiple, but it is obtainable only through precision. Multiplicity of objects is shown only when who is living with them can distinguish their single parts and, at the same time, can see the work in its wholeness. This throw back to the “unitary” character of architecture, in which every part is in relation with the others and together they give a sense to the project. Zumthor’s planning is pure: nothing is pointless. In this society, as the architect says, «architecture has to oppose resistance», and react to the naughtiness of shapes and meanings, and return to talk its own language. Original shape invention or particular composition doesn’t take to the truth. Between multiplicity and silence there’s a tense and vibrational relationship, and the concrete idea is in their equilibrium.
Things determine the spatial dimension of the world, and therefore its knowledge and usability to us. The project triggers a linking mechanism between things, so they can assume a meaning to the user, becoming an efficient tool to know of the world. Things, objects, the world of references, transform our sensations in remembrance. The pictures that come to mind enclose Zumthor’s research heart. Shape is the result, not the reason. Beauty doesn’t come out of the shape alone, but of the multiplicity of impressions, sensations and emotions that the shape has us to discover.
Saint Benedict - Courtesy of Marco Masetti（圣本尼迪克特-马克·马赛迪摄）
For Zumthor there is a strong connection between reality and living. This brings him to be oriented towards the concrete, imagining “things” and not “theories”. Emotion reveals the “authentic core” of things.
From emotion he passes on to remembrance and memory, which are the central threads in Zumthor’s research.
«The world is overloaded of signs and information, representative of things – Zumthor wrote – that nobody completely understands, because they are in turn nothing but signs representative of other signs. The real thing remains hidden. Nobody can ever see it». Zumthor’s architecture has nothing to hide from us: It is a direct sign that doesn’t throw back to other meanings.His architectural gestures remain dipped into the surroundings and don’t subjugate them to disputable formalisms. It’s no accident that his work is frequently categorized as minimal. Minimalist work always depends on a spectator, therefore it isn’t autonomous (or best, self-referenced), and furthermore it gives the impression to contain something, to be empty inside. «At the center of architecture, there seems to be an empty space. You can’t plan emptiness, but you can draw its boundaries, and so empty comes to life». So architecture is emptiness, and if the architect wants to produce beauty, he has to work on light and vibrations (sonorous, tactile…) that spread in this absence. Zumthor gives particular importance to the “metaphysical silence” and its peculiar and precise characteristics, akin to poetry. As George Steiner writes, «silence is an alternative. When, in the polis, words are filled with barbarism and lies, nothing talks as strongly as non-written poetry».
“世界负担了过多的符号与信息、事物的代表”，卒姆托写到，“这些东西没人能完全理解，因为它们除了作为代表其他符号的符号，如此往复以外，什么也不是。真实的事物却一直隐藏。甚至无人能看到它。”卒姆托的建筑没有需要从我们眼前隐藏的东西：它是一个直接的符号，并不回溯到其他意义。他的建筑的姿态沉浸在它的周遭环境之中，而不是使环境服从于有待商榷的形式主义之下。他的建筑频频被归类为极简之属并不是偶然的。极简主义作品往往取决于一个欣赏者，因此它不是自主的（或最好称作：自指的）；此外，它给人一种包含某物、中心空虚的印象。“在建筑学的中心，仿佛存在着一个虚空。你不能设计虚空，但是你可以画出它的边界，从而虚空获得了生命。因此，建筑即是虚空，而建筑师如果想要创造美，他必须在蔓延于这种缺失之中的光与振动之上工作（有声的，能触及的……）。”卒姆托给予“形而上的寂静”及其奇特而精确的特点以特别的重要性，类似于诗学。如乔治·斯坦纳所写：“寂静是一种选择，在希腊城邦之中（完全查不到in the polis的意思，polis是古希腊的城邦国家，这里只好作此解释），当话语充斥着野蛮与谎言，没有什么的言说能有未载之诗一样的力量。”
The process used by Zumthor to reach the memory is the «architectonic dramatization»: maybe it’s the only possible way to remember, because it’s only through emotions that mankind can remember. The monument, as a symbol, is not conceived by Zumthor, who imagines the building as a real place, not a content falsification. «To build a monument, – as he said – where every politician put up his plaque or his wreath, is the first act of forgetfulness».
In the shelters for the Roman archaeological site in Chur, Zumthor decides to establish an architectural link between the ruins and the city. The building is a filter between internal space and the city, that can penetrate, in the form of air, light and sound, through the thin plates in wood. The impression is to enter a non-temporal field: the space of the memory. Temporality is realized when the work considers the space in its totality, without distinctions between in and out. It is perceived only to (and in presence of) a spectator of the work that lives its volumes, contributing to strengthen the relations between architecture and the spectator himself.
In his works, light writes silently on objects the poetry, that is the only way to reach the truth – as he wrote in Thinking architecture. Originality and oddness have no connection with poetry. Air, light, sounds, and materials are the alphabet of his architecture, which speaks of itself, without however stunning us. A case in which (finally) the content returns to be the subject. This is the center of Zumthor’s architecture: they aren’t built to amaze us, as a performance, but they are here for man, who doesn’t have to be «stunned with chatter».
Kunsthaus - Courtesy of Marco Masetti（布列根兹美术馆，马克·马赛迪摄）
Zumthor has never investigated the theme of the city. By the way in some case it’s possible to distinguish interesting characteristics of this topic. I think of the Kunsthaus Museum’s square in Bregenz, and also at the relationship between building, ruins and city in Koln.
Zumthor always prefers knowledge, thought, order, in a century when man is looking for simple pleasures, immediate and ephemeral. These are the reflections that motivated me to try interviewing Mr. Peter Zumthor.
Talking about architecture with Peter Zumthor