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Swiss architect wins prized Pritzker award

Peter Zumthor's designs for an art museum emerging from a bombed-out church and thermal baths both caught the jury's eye.

By Bonnie ChurchillContributor to The Christian Science Monitor / April 13, 2009

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor is seen in front of his home in Haldenstein, Canton of Grisons, Switzerland, on April 13. Mr. Zumthor has won the 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize.

Arno Balzarini/Keystone/AP

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The 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the most honored name in its field, will be awarded to Swiss architect Peter Zumthor. The ceremony will take place in Buenos Aires, Argentina, May 29, which marks the first time the award will be held in South America.

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On receiving the news, Mr. Zumthor said, "It is such an honor to receive this award for the architectural work we have done over the past 20 or so years. We are a small company, only 20 young people, from eight different parts of the world, and we're located in the remote village of Haldenstein, Switzerland. To have our buildings and museums recognized by the professional world makes us humbly proud."

The Pritzker selection jury, as well as fellow architects worldwide, have been impressed by the works Zumthor has done not only in Switzerland, but in Germany, England, the United States, Spain, Austria, Norway, Finland, and the Netherlands. At present, he is working on a design for Norway, right near the North Pole, a memorial for 92 slain martyrs, accused of being witches. He says, "Recognition of their bravery is belated but not forgotten."

"The Pritzker is 'the' honor," he says. "Your work must stand for itself. Even though you are relatively small, that it can be recognized by a renowned body such as this, is truly humbling. I have never been money driven, it has always been the use for the building that makes me passionate. I tell young people not to continue doing a project if you think of a better way. Scrap it, and start again, for the end results make it more worthwhile."

In its citation, the jury noted the schools, chapels, apartment buildings, museums, art galleries, civic centers designed by Zumthor. They singled out the Kolumba Art Museum in Cologne, Germany, which emerges from the remains of a bombed church. It is a startling contemporary work, yet is also at ease with its many layers of history.