Swiss star architect Peter Zumthor has been awarded the prestigious Royal Gold Medal by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) on behalf of the Queen.
The honour is awarded annually in recognition of an individual’s or group’s substantial contribution to international architecture. Zumthor, the institute said, is “celebrated for his highly atmospheric and charged spaces” and “creates buildings that are an experience for all the senses”.
The Guardian newspaper in London, reporting the RIBA news, said breathlessly that the 69-year-old Zumthor, “around whom hangs an aura greater than any other living practitioner”, is “the architect every architect wants to be, the inspiration every student cites”.
In 1979, after working as a building and planning consultant for the eastern Swiss canton of Graubünden, Zumthor established his own practice in Haldenstein, where he still works with a staff of 15.
From projects such as the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria, the Therme Vals (thermal baths) in Vals, Switzerland, and the Kolumba Art Museum in Cologne, his buildings have been praised for a richness of materials and an attention to detail that is informed by their surroundings.
Zumthor received the Praemium Imperiale from the Japan Art Association in 2008 and in 2009, he won the Pritzker Architecture Prize - the most prestigious award in the field, often seen as the “Nobel Prize of architecture”. He became the second Pritzker laureate to be chosen from Switzerland after Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, who shared the prize in 2001.
Despite the accolades, Zumthor has said he aimed to create buildings that become part of everyday life so that even people who don't consider their architectural merit can enjoy them.
The Royal Gold Medal was first awarded in 1848 to Charles Robert Cockerell. Its winners include some of the most influential architects of the 19th and 20th centuries, including Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1864), Frank Lloyd Wright (1941), Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1959) and Buckminster Fuller (1968).
Previous Swiss winners include Le Corbusier (1953) and Herzog & de Meuron (2007).