"I’m a passionate architect... I do not work
for money" - Peter Zumthor


As Peter Zumthor has this week been named as the recipient of this year’s Royal Gold Medal for architecture, here's another chance to watch the movie interview Dezeen filmed with him last summer, in which he told us "I'm a passionate architect and I think it's a beautiful profession." Update: this interview is featured in Dezeen Book of Interviews, which is on sale now for £12.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 by Peter Zumthor  photographed by Hufton + Crow

Speaking at the opening of his Serpentine Gallery Pavilion (pictured) in London, Zumthor said, "I do not work for money; I'm not going for commercial projects. I go for projects where I can put my heart into it and which I think are worthwhile."

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 by Peter Zumthor  photographed by Hufton + Crow

He also told us how he started out in his father's cabinet-making workshop, went to art school and "slowly, slowly" became an architect. "Now maybe soon I’ll become a landscape architect too," he added. The pavilion featured a black walled garden framing a strip of wild planting by Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2011 by Peter Zumthor  photographed by Hufton + Crow

Zumthor, who was also awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2009, will be presented with the Royal Gold Medal for architecture in a ceremony at the Royal Institute of British Architects in London on 6 February 2013. Read more here. See all our stories about Peter Zumthor here.

Peter Zumthor

Read more about the pavilion in our earlier story and see more photos here and here.

Photos are by Hufton + Crow.

  • The way I’d love it to be, although some of us have student loans to pay back.

  • csparrott

    What absolute b****cks. I’m sure all architects wouldn’t have to work for money if they had international clients at their beck and call.

  • Jonathan

    It would be useful if Zumthor clarified his position. To a lay person it would be easy to assume that he is somewhat of a starving artist making sacrifices and suffering hardship for beauty and passion. In reality he is a wealthy Swiss national who had the opportunity to study in New York, run a successful practice (which charges profesional fees) and teach at Harvard. Its rather hard to swallow his comments, which to the less privileged sound arrogant and patronising.

  • This is the daily mantra of thousands of young architects, unpaid or underpaid.

  • omnicrom

    Have to agree with Jonathan. It’s very easy to say you are not in it for the money when you have plenty of it to keep you going without worry (not to mention a practice that will never be short of jobs)!

  • Davide

    This is why bosses don’t pay enough (or at all) to young architects.

  • urB

    Come on Peter, who is the architect working for money? Not me, there are so many better jobs for this. By saying this, you just tell us you earn a lot of money. I just hope you just pay your slave workers, not like any other international $tar.

  • soupdragon55

    @urB, next time you’re in Switzerland, pop into his office. It’s a bit different to what you imply.

    In general I agree with the gist of the criticism here. It’s a typical western theme, those who reject money and materialism are predominantly the wealthy (John Lennon was a classic hypocrite on this matter). It’s very rare to see poor people saying how great it is not to have money.

    Peter is in a position of extreme privilege, and does not help the industry with the comments, but it is more a case of misinterpretation. He is implying that his passion to do the right thing overrides the desire to work purely for the money but doing the wrong thing.

  • Jonathan

    Soupdragon, thanks for your response. Please don’t take my post as a criticism of the man or his practice, which produces inspirational work. I would however close my contribution by the observation that the same creed Zumthor expounds is taught to architecture students in place of a basic understanding of honest and ethical fee earning. This in my view helps continues the abuse of young architects by clients and employers who are not equipped with basic understanding of their real value to a business.


    What a bunch of victims. This guy doesn’t owe any of you jack sh*t so would you all just take a step back, and go bi%ch about something that is actually pertinent to your lives. Money aside, he is better at doing what he does than you are, therefore, an appropriate reaction would be to watch, and listen, on the off chance that you might actually learn something.

  • I like what you said Peter, but have you had a chance to look at the architecture? Why didn’t you just send everybody to the Tower of London with some ferns in the their hands?

    Sadly many patrons have either poor taste these days, or lack of aesthetic judgement.

  • karina

    But the money is never badly received :)

  • Does an artist paint for money, or because they are driven, passionate? It doesn’t mean that the paintings don’t sell.

    Carefully curated, carefully designed and executed, beautiful projects are the result of dedication and passion to architecture, not to money. Perhaps that’s the point?

    A positive to acknowledge versus the prevalence of ‘star’ architects increasing the size of their office and cashing in. Could you holistically design 100 projects at once?

  • Tyrent

    Yeah right, Pete I’m sure your services are easily obtained by the common man. This is exactly the BS they teach all architects in school and willingly we all believe.

  • Virgile

    Problem being that the headline is sending the wrong message – the value of this interview is elsewhere. Thanks for putting this together Dezeen.

  • Ramon

    Zumthor is, for me, the only great living architect.

  • Coming back on topic, I love this pavilion. I bet he will be a great landscape architect too!

  • Fed

    Obi-Wan Kenobi! No need for money when the Force is so strong with you. With Zaha as Jabba we’ve got a great ArchiStar Wars squad starting here!

  • E12

    That’s ’cause you’re loaded already.

  • mffischer

    Zumthor has incredible skill at what he does. But living in a remote location in Swiss Alps with a population roughly close to 1000 is not the environment that most of us live in, or choose to live in. I won’t bash him for his comments, for I’m sure he’s well aware of how unique his situation is.

    It is disappointing that most of these architects won’t even attempt to relate or sympathize with the majority of established and emerging professionals, like somehow we’re doing it wrong in their eyes.

  • ZumthorFanatic

    I love Zumthor and he’s probably my topmost favorite and inspiration but… I seriously doubt he’d be saying this decades ago when he was still just starting out with barely anything. It’s easy to say when you’re rich though. It’s a hypocritical statement, actually.

  • Carpe Diem

    What a load of whining. Zumthor demands the respect of the architecture profession worldwide. Why? Because he’s earned it. If you own “Thinking Architecture”, “Atmospheres” or any of his other writings, you would understand the spirit in which his comments are made in this interview.

    Of course you should understand also that there is an uglier side to the architecture profession, which those of us who have been doing it for more than 5 minutes realise. The competitive tender process and other bid situations where the idea that a fair fee disappears along with many other considerations in the process of winning the project at all costs (or no cost). It’s called a global financial crisis.

    Zumthor should be commended for having positioned himself over many decades such that he can make a comment like this. He can effectively choose his commissions because he’s earned the right to do so. Maybe those moaning about his comments should concentrate their energy on carving out a niche as Zumthor has.

  • John

    I see absolutely nothing wrong with what Zumthor has stated. He simply doesn’t pursue projects that don’t interest him or that he doesn’t believe are worthwhile. The fact that Zumthor doesn’t chase every project that comes his way shows that he has a great deal of integrity. Frankly, I expect that this is a position in which the majority of passionate creators would like to find themselves.

  • ZumthorFanatic

    Frank Lloyd Wright was just as passionate if not more than Zumthor and the former did most of his works for money.

    Who’s to say architects who work their asses off haven’t been passionate in carrying out their designs?

    Don’t let fanboyism get into you guys. I’m an honest to God Zumthor fanboy (if my username doesn’t speak for itself already) but I know and call out hypocrisy when I see it.

  • Jsoe

    If I won the Eurolotto, I think that I would work as an architect, but choosing only the jobs I like to do, not all the rubbish, badly paid ones that many times we must accept to pay the bills anyway.

  • Visiopolis

    Oh, I didn’t know that Zumthor was a pro-bono architect!

  • cxs

    Peter Zumthor playing Hermit Genius? Read this article on “Notes on becoming a famous architect”:

  • ula

    This pavilion was great. I had a chance to see it in the rain. Here is the photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/small_moon/594839396

  • Stevens

    lol @ all the people surprised and baffled when he says he's not in it for the money.

    Everyone has to pay bills, doesn't mean you organize your entire life around it. It's an incredibly easy concept to understand and even live by….. My hat off to the man for his amazing integrity and contribution to the field.

  • Richie

    There is a difference between saying that you are not motivated by money in your choice of projects (as Zumthor says here) and that you don't care about getting paid for your work (as many commenters seem to have interpreted him as saying).. He's in a privileged position, sure, but it's one he earned.

  • IrrelevantAristocrat

    Call me when Zumthor does a library or housing, or anything public that isn’t a chapel, luxury bath, gallery etc.

  • srishti

    It takes a lot of courage to make work close to your heart and persistence to be accepted for just that.

    He is saying that comes with a price, which cannot be evaluated through money alone: cause, craft, use and design intent have more to do with it. How is that wrong?

  • Göran Carl Heintz

    Zumthor is just amazing and has a different outlook on architecture than most. Obviously the argument with not designing for money is just a waste of everyone’s time, none of us do and yes, easy to say when everything is just rolling. Only when someone has a pattern of acting for that idea (not designing for money with doing work for free, take lower fees etc.) then you can actually say something like that.

  • lsingh

    First I know of/viewed Peter Zumthor’s designs here. I dare say, I seldom comes across a unique architect who describes a bit of himself/approach/attitude. It’s refreshing, despite a few feral comments. ; )

  • Robert Kwolek

    If that were true, he would resign from the LACMA project, which is turning out terribly.