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Building the Picture

Five contemporary perspectives on imagined architecture and how closely the modern arts of design parallel those of Italian Renaissance painters.
Building the Picture (Peter Zumthor: Real and Imagined Buildings)

Building the Picture (Peter Zumthor: Real and Imagined Buildings)

Peter Zumthor, internationally acclaimed Swiss architect, gives a rare interview in which he reveals his thoughts on imagined buildings, dreams and architectural time.

Including footage of his Thermal Baths, Vals and Saint Benedict's Chapel, Sumtvitg, Zumthor responds to the depiction of the stable in Ercole de' Roberti's 'Nativity', about 1490, by declaring ''a good building should have a soul.''

This film is one of five giving contemporary perspectives on the National Gallery exhibition ‘Building the Picture: Architecture in Italian Renaissance Painting’ (30 April – 21 September 2014).

Peter Zumthor: If I have to do a building I have an image of what the building should be and how it should be, what kind of atmosphere it should have. And this is not a moral category or ethical category of honesty or not honesty. This is more being truthful to my feeling for the place or my feeling for the task, for the use of the building.

Designing for me is sort of a physical act. At the end is a physical object and I have to make sure that I, as soon as possible, get in contact with this physical object I'm dreaming of. And a dream is also in my case, if I dream of a building, it's an image. It's not an abstract thought. I don't have any abstract dreams. I only have concrete dreams. [laughs]

Leah Kharibian: A lot of Renaissance depictions of architecture are works of the imagination. They're dreamed buildings.

[Peter: Sure]

And this little painting by Ercole de' Roberti from about 1490, where he imagines the stable of the Nativity which suggests to him the origins of architecture, the wooden structure, but it's also done in the very latest form, to a Renaissance viewer, the very latest form of architecture. So he's both got a very primal and a very modern element going on at the same time. And I wondered if that was something that was also in your work?

Peter Zumthor:  Time to me, I can only imagine, so that it really means something to me, is the moment I live. I'm living, obviously, in this moment and I'm surrounded by things which come from the past. I myself I'm 99% history. And if I look around I'm surrounded by things which have been made by people, they might not even live anymore. The trees outside they are older than me, and they will outlive me. I love this. This gives me a feeling of, I must be part of something bigger. [bells ringing] So with this feeling doing houses means, yes, let’s do a house which can be a part of time. Maybe, if it's successful as a building, and successful for me would be loved by people, to use it or something. Then you can tell the building knows something about time, knows about the time before and the time which might come.

Leah Kharibian:  So does the building have a form of intelligence if it's a good building?

Peter Zumthor:  The building has a form of soul. Intelligence to me is this laser line there. I prefer to say it has a soul, or a heart.  A soul is good, because this is the big thing. Yes, a good building should have a soul.

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