Peter Zumthor wins Pritzker Prize



Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has been named 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

Portrait by Gary Ebner. Update 18/04/09: see an overview of Zumthor's best buildings in our new story.

Below is the announcement; more info and images on the Pritzker Prize website:


Peter Zumthor of Switzerland Becomes the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate

Los Angeles, CA—Peter Zumthor of Switzerland has been chosen as the 2009

Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. The formal ceremony for what has come to be known throughout the world as architecture’s highest honor will be held on May 29 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. At that time, a $100,000 grant and a bronze medallion will be bestowed on the 65-year old architect.

Although most of his work is in Switzerland, he has designed projects in Germany, Austria, The Netherlands, England, Spain, Norway, Finland and the United States. His most famous work is in Vals, Switzerland — the Thermal Baths, which has been referred to by the press as “his masterpiece.” Most recently critics have praised his Field Chapel to Saint Nikolaus von der Flüe near Cologne, Germany. The jury singled out not only those buildings, but also the Kolumba Museum in Cologne, calling the latter “a startling contemporary work, but also one that is completely at ease with its many layers of history.”

In announcing the jury’s choice, Thomas J. Pritzker, chairman of The Hyatt Foundation, quoted from the jury citation, “Peter Zumthor is a master architect admired by his colleagues around the world for work that is focused, uncompromising and exceptionally determined.” And he added, “All of Peter Zumthor’s buildings have a strong, timeless presence. He has a rare talent of combining clear and rigorous thought with a truly poetic dimension, resulting in works that never cease to inspire.”

In Zumthor’s own words as expressed in his book, Thinking Architecture, “I believe that architecture today needs to reflect on the tasks and possibilities which are inherently its own. Architecture is not a vehicle or a symbol for things that do not belong to its essence.

In a society that celebrates the inessential, architecture can put up a resistance, counteract the waste of forms and meanings, and speak its own language. I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society. My buildings try to answer the questions that emerge from these simple facts as precisely and critically as they can.”

Pritzker Prize jury chairman, The Lord Palumbo elaborated with more of the citation: “Zumthor has a keen ability to create places that are much more than a single building. His architecture expresses respect for the primacy of the site, the legacy of a local culture and the invaluable lessons of architectural history.” He continued, “In Zumthor’s skillful hands , like those of the consummate craftsman, materials from cedar shingles to sandblasted glass are used in a way that celebrates their own unique qualities, all in the service of an architecture of permanence.”

Zumthor, when notified that he had been named the 2009 laureate, responded, “Being awarded the Pritzker Prize is a wonderful recognition of the architectural work we have done in the last 20 years. That a body of work as small as ours is recognized in the professional world makes us feel proud and should give much hope to young professionals that if they strive for quality in their work it might become visible without any special promotion.”

The Zumthor choice marks the second time in three decades of the Pritzker Architecture Prize that Switzerland has provided the laureate. In 2001, Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron were the honorees.

The purpose of the Pritzker Architecture Prize is to honor annually a living architect whose built work demonstrates a combination of those qualities of talent, vision and commitment, which has produced consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment through the art of architecture.

The distinguished jury that selected Zumthor as the 2009 Laureate consists of its chairman, Lord Palumbo, internationally known architectural patron of London, chairman of the trustees, Serpentine Gallery, former chairman of the Arts Council of Great Britain, former chairman of the Tate Gallery Foundation, and former trustee of the Mies van der Rohe Archive at the Museum of Modern Art, New York; and alphabetically: Alejandro Aravena, architect and executive director of Elemental in Santiago, Chile; Shigeru Ban, architect and professor at Keio University, Tokyo, Japan; Rolf Fehlbaum, chairman of the board, Vitra in Basel, Switzerland; Carlos Jimenez, professor, Rice University School of Architecture, principal, Carlos Jimenez Studio in Houston, Texas; Juhani Pallasmaa, architect, professor and author of Helsinki, Finland; Renzo Piano, architect and Pritzker Laureate, of Paris, France and Genoa, Italy; and Karen Stein, writer, editor and architectural consultant in New York. Martha Thorne, asssociate dean for external relations, IE School of Architecture, Madrid, Spain, is executive director.

“There have been two Pritzker Prize Laureates from South America, but we have never held the ceremony there,” explained Pritzker. “The first was Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil in 1988, and then another Brazilian in 2006, Paulo Mendes da Rocha. We held their ceremonies in Chicago and Istanbul respectively. The venues change every year, moving around the world focusing on historic and architecturally significant sites. We’ve held ceremoies in Asia, Europe and North America, including Mexico, so it is time to visit South America.”

The late Philip Johnson was the first Pritzker Laureate in 1979. The late Luis Barragán of Mexico was named in 1980. The late James Stirling of the United Kingdom was elected in 1981, Kevin Roche in 1982, Ieoh Ming Pei in 1983, and Richard Meier in 1984. Hans Hollein of Austria was the 1985 Laureate. Gottfried Böhm of Germany received the prize in 1986. The late Kenzo Tange was the first Japanese architect to receive the prize in 1987; Fumihiko Maki was the second from Japan in 1993; and Tadao Ando the third in 1995. Robert Venturi received the honor in 1991, and Alvaro Siza of Portugal in 1992. Christian de Portzamparc of France was elected Pritzker Laureate in 1994. The late Gordon Bunshaft of the United States and Oscar Niemeyer of Brazil, were named in 1988. Frank Gehry of the United States was the recipient in 1989, the late Aldo Rossi of Italy in 1990. In 1996, Rafael Moneo of Spain was the Laureate; in 1997 the late Sverre Fehn of Norway; in 1998 Renzo Piano of Italy, in 1999 Sir Norman Foster of the UK, and in 2000, Rem Koolhaas of the Netherlands. In 2001, two architects from Switzerland received the honor: Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron.

Australian Glenn Murcutt received the prize in 2002. The late Jørn Utzon of Denmark was honored in 2003; Zaha Hadid of the UK in 2004; and Thom Mayne of the United  States in 2005. Paulo Mendes da Rocha of Brazil was the Laureate in 2006, and Richard  Rogers received the prize in 2007. Jean Nouvel of France was the Laureate last year.

The field of architecture was chosen by the Pritzker family because of their keen interest in building due to their involvement with developing the Hyatt Hotels around the
world; also because architecture was a creative endeavor not included in the Nobel Prizes.

The procedures were modeled after the Nobels, with the final selection being made by the international jury with all deliberations and voting in secret. Nominations are continuous from year to year with hundreds of nominees from countries all around the world being considered each year.

Previous Pritzker Prize winners on Dezeen:



Jean Nouvel 2008


Richard Rogers 2007

Posted on Monday April 13th 2009 at 9:06 am by . Copyright policy | Comments policy

  • Tellsitlikeitis

    I can’t imagine any architect more deserving for this prize.

    The living antithesis to all PR focused approaches in architecture.
    The living antithesis to all bullcrap theorizing in schools worldwide.

    “When he got the news that he had been awarded the Pritzker, he took the occasion to say that it would give much hope to young professionals that, if they strive for quality in their work, it might become visible without any special promotion.”

    Take this lesson kids if you seriously think being able to handle Rhino or Maya makes you an architect.

  • Congratz to the master!

    I bet 2010 winner will go to some south-american architect (I wish it’ll go to Smiljan Radic!)

  • sebastian

    well deserved and humbly received. wonderful news!

  • ray

    congratulations maestro

  • jack the ripper

    oh yes – zumthor embodies what architecture should be all about ;

    at last a true talent without pretention ..

    jack is happy ..

  • BH

    I agree with ‘tellsitlikeitis’ – put down the operations manual for Rhino and pick up a copy of ‘Atmospheres’ and ‘Thinking Architecture’ Better still visit the buildings, they leave the impression they have always been there.

    In my opinion this is what architecture CAN and SHOULD be, strong, timeless and poetic. Architecture as a background for life as opposed to desperately striving to be the center on attention. His work is the antidote to all the egotistical crap out there.

    A true Master Builder!


  • kc

    who else is left that is likely to receive a pritzker? I feel all the big name architects I’ve heard have either won already or are probably too young to win

  • Not another architect that deserves it more!

  • Tim

    A well deserved win: an architect with a distinct style, wary of trends and fashions, yet very contemporary…

    KC: as far as other candidates, I was thinking along the lines of Toyo Ito, Sanaa, Steven Holl, Maybe UN Studio… Or possibly Eisenmann or even Chipperfield?

  • Greg

    KC: Santiago Calatrava comes to mind immediately. Has Rem Koolhaas won yet?

  • kg

    Finally… well-deserved and a long belated award…

  • scarpasez

    Zumthor: Master. His works are extraordinary and his dedication to craft, the most exquisite minimalism and consideration of material and deeeeeeeeeep design is a true inspiration.

    But quit dissing on Rhino, eh? There is extraordinary work being done with CAD and scripted geometries. True: pretty renders and blobby curve towers don’t resolve details or define space. But Rhino + Grasshopper, Maya and Generative Components are like chipboard, the pencil, and the drafting table: which is to say, they are tools. And in the hands of the right designer, they become the means to draw extraordinary architecture. So climb down from your high horse and accept that there’s a new hammer in the toolbox already. Architects and students alike used to make crap without computers, too. Just because you don’t know how to use these new tools doesn’t give you the right to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

  • jet

    about time!!! he his a great inspiration and one of the last breeds of his generation.. bravo

  • Ste

    great news! zumthor did a great job in Vals, Bregenz and Köln… i saw an exhibition of his work in bregenz about 1 year ago… then i was impressed by the rigorosity of his drawings and models of the above projects… but to be honest didnt like the 2 or 3 newer projects so im really eager to know what comes next from the master of atmospheres…

  • Luxury Larry

    Well deserve recipient!!

  • Richie

    I’m glad – one of my favourite architects working today and a major inspiration. Hope he keeps it up for another few years yet.

  • jan

    i thought it would be chipperfield but zumthor really deserves it!
    awsome mate!

  • Em

    I only visited the Kunsthaus in Bregenz (a small picture gallery is here), and it was really worth the time I spent there.

  • jack the ripper

    well, it seems dezeen readers agree on this one .. for the first time ?

    coup de maitre for Zumthor.

    there is such thing as universal beauty after all..

    encore !

  • jh

    @ Tellsitlikeitis & BH
    ..funny how some guys here make a link between a pritzker prize and maya or rhino modelling ‘kids’. someone must be pretty scared about the youth of today. me, i love maya and rhino ( no need for manuals anymore).

  • gaque

    scarpasez and jh: amen!

    many congratulations to mr zumthor.

  • At last Zumthor gets his prize, so then all the heideggerian-archiTollah would stop complaining about the blob or pop-architecture !!!!

    Every 5 or 6 years the Pritzker prize is attributed to an overblowned, overrated Starchitect. One of them was Glenn Murcutt, architect for Left-wing Chardonnay, bohemian-bourgeois, quickly forgotten and an object of jokes amongst australian architects (“touching lightly the earth”).

    Now has come the time for Zumthor, time of crisis, time of puritan masochism, greenies, and neo-con architects, all fearing eco-terrorism, and preaching for a return to the so-called fundamentals of architecture, the lost paradise of pure architecture. Sounds like Adolf and his vegan regime.

    Nostalgia is a weapon.

  • BH

    @ scarpasez:

    ha-ha, good reply – sharp and sweet! ouch! You are probably right, however it mustn’t be in the hands of the right designers that often, although granted there are ‘extraordinary’ examples that show up now and again. Don’t worry, I’m not as old as I sound and believe it or not I’m not still using a drawing board…

    Funny, I’ll be having a baby at some point in the next few days, so I’ll take care not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater”…. ;)

  • kc

    @tim and greg: ah right I can’t believe I forgot about them, though I personally hope eisenman doesn’t get one :P and koolhaas definitely already has one

    @scarpasez: right on! also gotta love scarpa

    anyway congrats to zumthor!

  • Michael J

    A Master receives his due and responds with the humility of a true Master. Zumthor’s work exemplifies timeless and exquisite design – distilled to its purest essentials.

    Congratulations to this icon as he joins Barragan and Murcutt in personifying (Henry David) Thoreau thought in modern architecture.

  • The Architect

    thats a win win

  • CK

    Congrats. From what I can see here the news about Zumpthor being awarded the Pritzker Prize is responded by:

    1. Congratulations and how he totally rocks (which of course is true. My congratulations to the grand master too)

    2. Hatred towards Rhino and Maya.

    just seems funny… and a bit unnecessary.

  • Matty D.

    Having experienced the Zumthor Baths in Vals firsthand, I am dumb-founded to realize Zumthor had yet to win the Pritzker. A True Master at every level!

  • Q

    tellsitlikeitis, i subscribe your words. the arch world is taken by concept bs, let´s create real architecture, real design..

    “the reality of architecture is the concrete body in wich forms, volumes, and spaces come into being. there are no ideas except in things”

    peter zumthor in thinking architecture.

    let´s all think architecture instead of thinking crap =D

  • That’s it all the architollah are happy, “let’s all think architecture instead of thinking crap”…
    Sounds promising, are we going to burn models and books about advanced geometry?

  • Sounds like a deserved award for Swiss architect Peter Zumthor .

  • tom

    hey dezeeners arent you people mad? Zaha didnt get it this yr!?!?!?!?!?
    oh noooo

    no funky ultra cool buildings made with rhinoScript here boys!

    Finally something real.

  • jzi

    you are truly an architect by heart.

  • flip

    tom.. zaha hadid got it last 2004..