Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor
and Louise Bourgeois


Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

Architect Peter Zumthor designed this memorial on an island in Norway to commemorate suspected witches who were burned at the stake there in the seventeenth century (photographs by Andrew Meredith).

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

The Steilneset Memorial in Vardø comprises two structures, one conceived entirely by Zumthor and a second housing an installation by the late Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010).

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

The first structure comprises a pine scaffolding framework, inside which is a suspended fabric cocoon containing a long oak-floored corridor.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

Inside this corridor, light bulbs hang behind 91 windows to represent each of the men and women that were put to death during the witch trials.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

A plaque accompanies each lamp to record the individual stories of every victim.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

The installation by Bourgeois, entitled The Damned, The Possessed and The Beloved, occupies the smoked-glass-clad second structure.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

A circle of mirrors within surround and reflect a flaming steel chair inside a hollow concrete cone.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

This year Zumthor also completed the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London and designed a holiday home for Devon, England, that will complete next year.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

See all our stories about Peter Zumthor here.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

You can also read about more projects from Norway by clicking here.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

Photography is provided c/o Icon Magazine.

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

Steilneset Memorial by Peter Zumthor and Louise Bourgeois

  • edward

    Very powerful symbolism. Fine work

  • Start of year with something amazing !!

  • Toby

    Nice use and development of a tension structure. Would like to see more examples of this.

    More than just awnings and shade umbrellas I say…

  • Marco

    As we've come to expect from Zumthor, another poetic and tectonic architectural exploration. However, I doubt whether the subject itself has ever mattered more than being an easy appology for an abstract and distant crime for the sake of making a riskless manifestation of civilizedness. And, more importantly, a flimsy excuse for drawing the architectural tourist to a remote and economically depressed region of Norway.

    As such, it would have been better – more beautiful and more honest – without the exposition and the burning chair.

    • Thi

      Couldn't agree more.

    • Andi

      the burning chair was Louise's contribution

    • I more or less may agree with your first statement regarding the subject itself being more than anything else an excuse for some impressive structures.

      However I cannot see any clue from where your estimation of Norweigan economics comes from. They surely do have problems, who in these days does not though, but I really could not agree it is the economics what bothers Norway nowadays most.

    • Noxis

      I suppose the question of how remote this issue is depends a great deal on geography and awareness. I live in the desert Southwest of the USA, and I know many, many, many people who openly regard homosexuals as not only possessed by demons, but as *actual* demons hiding in human form, soldiers in Satan's army, etc.

      The city where I was born, Alamogordo, NM, several years ago held at least three well attended public book burnings where they burned great big piles of Harry Potter books, as well as books on self help, feminism, psychology and history. I don't believe it received any press at the time, but there were more than a few non-Christian religious texts burned at these events.

      The reason, obviously, is that reading aloud even a very short selection from any Harry Potter novel is guaranteed to summon Satan in corporeal form. Yep. Mr Bob Satan, himself.

      Honestly, the far away specter of witch burnings probably isn't really all that far off. I'm sure a structure built to commemorate burning alive people suspected of being somewhat liberal in politics or religion — at least here in the US — will be built some year soon. Only this won't be a memorial, but instead an active facility with a very hot flame.

      • fetapapa

        Thank you Noxis for the insight.
        Actually this is a major reason for citizens not to trade-off on privacy.

        Marco you make two interesting points.
        About the apology, we do not know if the subject was a suggestion or requirement of the local government or society, or whether it the architects' choice, so your accusation might be unjust.
        About the economic part, you are totally right. The work was a commission from Norway's National Tourist Routes programme. Wallpaper has an informative article here:

  • Helen

    do NOT sit on that chair

  • The 'cocoon' looks like a toppled obelisk.

    A subliminal commentary against the patriarchal society that condemned these poor women, perhaps?

  • Steve

    It's hard to comment on the architecture without experiencing it – but it is appropriate to comment on the photography which is intended to communicate the architecture. This article is almost the perfect example of the problem, which has been with us for so long.

    Only one image takes a point of view in which it is clear that the complex is two buildings in very close proximity to each other. Al the other external images are artfully set up to transfigure the individual pavilions as heroically isolated objects. Even the views out of the Bourgeois pavilion – unavoidable given it is entirely glass clad – are composed and lit to reduce the impact of the relationship to the Zumthor structure.

    More principled photography will never actually communicate a truly multi-sensory experience of a place. But it sure would be an improvement on deliberate misrepresentation.

    • Thank you for your comments regarding the photography. The undertaking of this photography and the image selection was not intentionally unrepresentative of the 2 structures sitting together within the landscape. It was merely an editorial choice to document two very different structures in their entirety, trying not to make one structure sit uncomfortably with the other. With two buildings of such close proximity and different styles is not always the easiest of things to pare together successfully without making it look disjointed. but thank you for your helpful comments.

  • What a beauty, the contrasting materials give off a feeling of lightness and strength.

  • martini-girl

    I'm not sure I can agree with everyone on this.

    The obelisk on stilts is awkward. The ramps to the openings too long – it's as if they designed the structure and then realised they forgot that they needed to get people in there. And the interior seems stifling.

    Like the ramps, the second structure feels like an afterthought and the burning chair is just cheesy.

    Zumthor seem very good at designing structures that fall just sort of being practical. Serpentine is a perfect example of this.

    • Elisa

      I thought that the stifling interior was the best part. After all, why would you want to be comfortable at a memorial? To ease the thought of wrongful death?

    • LEE

      The ramps are important source of the journey you experiencing this memorial. The scenery you'll experience on that promenade is richly designated.

  • Chugach

    Appears to be one beautiful snow fence installed, purely by coincidence I'm sure, right in front of the Globus II Radar Station. Even the pilings and general construction techniques harken back to the DEW-line sites constructed along the Arctic coastline from Alaska to Greenland during the height of the cold-war.

    Regardless, Zumthor can do no wrong, tis lovely in its repetition, simplicity, and ingenious use of tensioned membrane. And I quite like the smoked glass pavilion. And as a pair I think they play off one another well.

  • Nobody2

    While the stucture is interesting, and quite beautiful on the inside, this is one of the cases where the environment looks much more beautiful without it — though, I'm probably underestimating the available amount of untouched coasts in Norway.

  • hovaard

    blows me away. photos are fantastic as well as the buildings.

  • Mano

    Landscape, Structure + Form…..beautiful synergy!

  • Edd

    Stunning. One thing though, it cost £9 million… OUCH|-latest…

  • David

    This project captures poetry, symbolism and more than anything else does exactly what architecture has the power to do; Evoke Emotion! I look forward to visiting this one day.

  • Vlad

    Looks like a bus terminal with all buses cancelled.

  • As always with zumthor a beautiful, poetic building. Finding it hard get past the £9,000,000 price tag though.

  • anoze4trubbl

    Oh wow! 9mil up in smoke to commemorate people who went the same way. Maybe I'm out of step with the western world …have been too long in "developing" countries (the ones that used to be called "third world" )… maybe. The S E Asian country where I am now has many people who cannot be sure where their next meal will come from. What I see in these photographs really shakes my tree …what a huge gap there is between the "haves" and the "have-nots". However, I do hope the inhabitants of the economically depressed area of Norway appreciate the beautiful poetic buildings.

  • Frank

    This is a conversation/talk between Toni Hildebrandt and Peter Zumthor:

    • Jason

      In German.

  • Dave Carcamano

    What a waste of a nice coastal landscape

  • Douglas Peterson

    The walkway is beautiful and tasteful but the burning chair seems like a contradiction to the memorial itself.