Page last updated at 02:48 GMT, Monday, 13 April 2009 03:48 UK

Swiss architect wins top honour

By Lawrence Pollard
BBC News

Peter Zumthor in his studio, Haldenstein, Switzerland
Zumthor is known for quietly elegant buildings

The most prestigious award for architecture, the Pritzker Prize, has been awarded to the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor.

The prize, worth $100,000, is given for a body of work across a career, and is mainly valued for the prestige and commissions it can bring.

Zumthor's works are found mainly in his native Switzerland, as well as elsewhere in Europe and the US.

His most famous commission is the thermal baths in Vals, Switzerland.

Peter Zumthor is about as far as its possible to be from the star names who have recently dominated architecture.

Thermal baths in Vals, France
The thermal baths at Vals are Zumthor's best-known work

He has worked in his native Switzerland for the past 30 years and has become known for quietly elegant museums, housing complexes and hotels with a fondness for using natural materials and a great interest in the the interior spaces he creates.

If you think of the big name star architects shouting "look at me", then Zumthor whispers.

He trained as a cabinet maker and there's a strong feel of craft and care to his work.

He says he doesn't ally himself to an ideology or school of architecture, but aims above all at creating an interior suited to place and use, simple principles aimed at producing human architecture.

One extraordinary recent building is a chapel built by wrapping concrete round a wigwam structure of tree trunks.

Interior of Peter Zumthor's Brother Klaus Field Chapel, Germany
The interior of Kumthor's "field chapel" keeps the imprint of tree trunks

Zumthor then burnt away the trunks, leaving the imprint of the wood as the texture of the interior, which retains the smell of charred wood.

Zumthor is said to turn down most requests to design, embarking only on projects he feels a passion for and which he then oversees from start to finish.

His buildings have been described as both humble and bold.

Zumthor said the award was a "wonderful recognition".

"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," he said.

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