Lighting the Way: An Architectural Masterclass in Zumthor’s Illumination Design

March 26, 2023 0 Comments


Lighting design has a profound impact on the way that we perceive and experience architecture. It can enhance or detract from the overall aesthetic, create drama, and even influence our emotional state. One architect who is renowned for his ability to manipulate light is Peter Zumthor. In this article, we will explore Zumthor’s approach to lighting design and examine how it contributes to his spatial compositions.

Background on Zumthor

Peter Zumthor is a Swiss architect who is known for his minimalist and sensual approach to design. His work is characterized by a focus on materials, textures, and atmospheres. He has received numerous awards for his contributions to architecture, including the Pritzker Prize in 2009. Zumthor’s approach to lighting is integral to his overall design philosophy.

Zumthor’s Approach to Lighting Design

Zumthor believes that lighting should be used to enhance the sensory experience of a space. He approaches lighting design as a way to create specific moods and atmospheres, rather than simply as a tool to provide illumination. One of his most famous projects, the Thermal Baths Vals, is a perfect example of how he uses light to create the intended atmosphere. The dim, warm lighting in the baths creates a sense of intimacy and relaxation, while highlighting the beauty of the natural stone.

The Importance of Natural Light

For Zumthor, natural light is of utmost importance in his designs. He understands that the quality and direction of natural light can change the atmosphere of a space throughout the day. In the Kolumba Art Museum in Cologne, Germany, he used light to highlight the historical artifacts in the museum’s collection. He installed skylights and strategically placed apertures to allow natural light to penetrate the space, creating a soft, diffused illumination that enhances the artwork.

The Use of Artificial Lighting

While natural light is his preferred choice, Zumthor also understands the importance of artificial lighting. He believes that artificial light should be used sparingly and with great thoughtfulness. In the Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Germany, he designed a small skylight that casts a narrow beam of sunlight onto the statue of the patron saint, creating a dramatic effect. In contrast, the rest of the chapel is illuminated only by a few simple light fixtures, which delicately enhance the natural materials and textures of the space.

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