What if Peter Zumthor was one of us?


Peter Zumthor is not one of us. Conrad Newel is about to find that out the hard way.

The following post was originally written as a comment on Dear Architecture Journalists: Stop Worshipping Peter Zumthor, published on Architizer by opinions contributor Conrad Newel.

Well, you sir, are just begging for trouble!

This is actually a profoundly relevant topic. As for trying to assertively discuss it on the internet... well... good luck with that!

There is, of course, a problem with the use of the word "architect". Peter Zumthor is an architect. I am an architect. Therefore I could conclude that "I am like Peter Zumthor".
I would be wrong. Just because we use the same words doesn't mean we are talking about the same things. Peter Zumthor openly claims that he is not a service provider. He doesn't work to comply with the promoter's needs or wishes and he is proud of his uncompromising nature.
No, Peter Zumthor is not one of us.

Of course, I'm not going to say that being uncompromising is a virtue or an evil. I will say that it is questionable. I would recommend the documentary "Peter Zumthor - Der Eigensinn des Schonnen" (although it is very difficult to find it nowadays) to witness some of the implications, both good and bad, of that approach to the field of architecture, and how it impacts other people.

The problem with the deification of an architect - or anyone for that matter - is that it narrows down and eventually shuts the possibility of debate. The pernicious aspect of having this cult status being promoted by architectural institutions and media - and when I say media I'm talking about critics that often have ties to official associations and academies - is that it becomes an obstacle to an open and healthy debate about architecture.

The corresponding symptom to that ill environment can be witnessed on these comments already. A possible debate gets shattered, not because the arguments raised are questioned, but because they were replaced by a lawyer type approach where (1) the author's credibility is questioned and, once that is done, (2) any argument presented is deemed irrelevant. A known way of sidestepping any discussion.

Keep in mind that Peter Zumthor's quality as an architect is not being questioned here - although it could, why not? But this is true all around the world. Every nation has its set of highly reverenced architects. If, for watever reason, one of their works becomes controversial, architectural institutions and critics will often close ranks in defense of "the architect", whose personal qualities or overall body of work are not being questioned, to minimize the debate around "the building".

That is why you will have great difficulty finding architects openly questioning buildings such as Calatrava's City of Arts and Sciences, Peter Eisenman's City of Culture of Galicia, Zaha Hadid's Zaragoza Bridge Pavilion, and so on, and so on. And if you are an architect and you question these buildings, trust me, doors will shut on you, and you will be on your way to become an outcast.

The real issue here, therefore, is that the glorification of architects is detrimental to a democratic environment where ideas, including architecture, can be questioned through rational considerations from which we can all learn and evolve.

And if we deny that, if we deny the possibility of that to happen because whoever is pointing the finger doesn't hold the seal of some ubber-institution, then we all run the risk of becoming a silent witness among the crowd, paying tribute to naked kings.

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