Since I arrived in Switzerland, I’ve been reading and re-reading two books – Thinking Architecture and Atmospheres. Each one is a collection of lectures by Peter Zumthor, in which he describes his personal thoughts on architecture. My own thoughts have arisen from the things he speaks of.
To begin, we must all agree on one single, and simple, idea: that architecture is the stage of life. Dwelling is what humans do, and it might seem redundant to say that humans must dwell in dwellings. Yet, the implication here is that the dwelling is tied to the verb; that that is its purpose, and that is its goal. When a building becomes the place where our lives may play out as they will, we’ve experienced architecture in a fundamental human fashion. Like the set to an opera, the background can and should only exist as the context for events.
They say, “Go with your instincts.” They say, “Search for truth.” Where does the difference lie?
Our reactions are our truest perceptions of reality. Even though we are constantly, endlessly, and unconsciously responding to the stimuli of our world, we should not take these behaviors for granted.
We meet someone and we have a feeling. We don’t know why, but we look into their eyes, we shake their hands, we see their smile, we hear their words – and in minutes we can understand most of what there is to know.
We hear music and we connect with it. The rhythm, the tone, and the sentiment of each instrument’s sound. Within the layers of vibrations we read a message, yet that message is never spoken. We can only read ourselves within it.
We step into a room and we can sense the space. Materials surround us and we can measure their warmth, usually without touch. More inherently, walls and roofs enclose us, and we feel our body’s presence inside the room.
In April 2010, I received the Jon A. Jerde Traveling Fellowship from the USC Architectural Guild and the School of Architecture. My proposal focused on the work of Peter Zumthor and his ability to connect to people through architecture. During my trip, I will be searching for clues into Zumthor’s process, the emotions and memories he evokes through materiality, light, and space, and finally how I will be able to convey those experiential qualities of architecture to people thousands of miles away. As I prepare for my departure, I’ll be updating about my progress – but for now, I’ve posted an excerpt from my proposal for everyone to read. Please leave comments or send me messages if you have anything you’d like to add to this discourse. Thank you!
Our most human of instincts lie in the deepest, most recessed corners of our minds, even in response to architecture. Reacting to space and material in an almost reptilian way, we take in our surroundings from the beginning of our existence, internalizing our sensibility. Our past experiences with space and material shape our perception and, in turn, each new experience reshapes the next. Hence, it is that which makes us most human that ties us so intimately to architecture. Read more…