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Expressing the Transpersonal: The Work of Peter Zumthor

Part 2 Dissertation 2008
Ross Tredget
University of Bath | UK
This text is an investigation into Peter Zumthor’s assertion that the architecture appropriate for the cultural climate of today should be one based on the ‘fundamentals that we still know, understand and feel’. Rather than employing new concepts of communication that are aligned with scientific investigation outside of the architectural realm, the paper highlights the links between Zumthor’s built works and typical formal-spatial combinations of styles of historical precedent. Following detailed analysis that illustrates such connections, the dissertation argues how and why the architect’s designs are apposite for our time.

The main body of the text sees the direct comparison of two of Zumthor’s buildings, the Kunsthaus in Bregenz and Thermal Baths in Vals, using a method of analytical analysis developed by the German Architectural Historian Paul Frankl in his book ‘The Principles of Architectural History’. The method, which drew heavily from the theories of space and anthropomorphic animation that were developed by German aestheticians in the late-19th century; involving the separate analysis of the spatial, corporeal and visual form of a building as well as its purposive intention (the affect of the purpose of a building in its perception). From this Frankl set about illustrating the typical formal-spatial combinations of the past and how they were tied to the specific epochal will of that particular period.

In undertaking such analysis on the two works it is shown how their forms conform to specific arrangements in Frankl’s study, and as such how the resultant combinations enhance Zumthor’s desired affect on those experiencing the buildings. Consequently such analysis provides a holistic understanding of the architect’s work, a concurrent theme is illustrated through the two buildings. Both position the particular against the homogenous and directly question man’s desire for rationality against those qualities of nature that lie beyond mankind’s control. The paper states that this is the fundamental attribute of the architect’s work and argues that it proposes a design stance that is deeply relevant to an architecture that is meaningful in today’s society.

Ross Tredget

Dissertation Tutor’s Statement:

Dissertation: Expressing the Transpersonal: The Work of Peter Zumthor by Ross Tredget.

This dissertation is the product of intense and thoughtful research by the student. In particular it has emerged from a series of in depth visits to the majority of Zumthor’s buildings, conducted with attentive zeal.

The writing elegantly sets the work of this ‘architect’s architect’ within current phenomological thinking; a context which is handled with mature insight and a clear structure (derived in part from aesthetic theory).

The work has been nominated in part because of its critical relevance to contemporary architectural thinking, but more especially because of its highly original analysis of the built work. The student has been able to establish an overall and cohesive narrative in Zumthor’s work from which he derives an understanding of universal/archetypal themes - the transpersonal; therein resides its potency.

The composition is bright in style and addresses complex and profound issues with assuredness. It proposes an architecture that resolves rational intent and experiential awareness.

Martin Gledhill
Director of Studies
University of Bath

Mr Martin Gledhill
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