Peter Zumthor: Therme Vals

Peter Zumthor: Therme Vals
Peter Zumthor (Editor); Photographs by Hélène Binet
Scheidegger & Spiess, 2007

Hardcover | 9-1/2 x 12 inches | 192 pages | 123 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3858817044 | $110.00


Peter Zumthor Therme Vals, the only book-length study of the mountain spa, features the architect’s own original sketches and plans for its design, as well as Hélène Binet’s striking photographs of the structure. Annotations by Zumthor elucidate Therme Vals’s symbiotic relationship to its natural surroundings, and an essay on such topics as Artemis/Diana, Baptism, and Spring by architectural scholar Sigrid Hauser draw out the connections between the elemental nature of the spa and mythology, bathing, and purity. This lavishly illustrated volume about the spa that catapulted a remote Swiss village onto the international architecture scene will entrance all enthusiasts of contemporary design.

Peter Zumthor, born 1943, works with his Atelier of around 30 people in the alpine setting of Haldenstein, Switzerland, producing architectural originals like Kunsthaus Bregenz, Therme Vals, Museum Kolumba Köln or the Steilneset Memorial in Vardø.


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A few days ago, in my review of the recently published The Architecture of Bathing, I mentioned a memorable trip I took to Vals, Switzerland, to spend the day inside Therme Vals, the famous baths designed by Peter Zumthor. It was hard not to think of that trip when flipping through a book about bathing spots (I'm not a swimmer or much of a water person, so the other most memorable experience of relevance would be bathing at ryokans in Japan); it was also hard not to grab my souvenir from that trip off the shelf. Although Therme Vals makes up a sizable chunk of Peter Zumthor: Works, the once sought after and ridiculously overpriced monograph put out by Lars Müller in 1999, this later building monograph put out by fellow Swiss publisher Scheidegger & Spiess delves even deeper into the building's inspiration, design, and execution. I'd say it's a must-have for any architect who has been there, but at $110 retail the price is a bit steep (mine is a gift I'm long grateful for). Of course, given that Therme Vals' ownership since 2012 has made visiting the baths unaffordable for local residents and most people, at least according to The Architecture of Bathing, the high price tag is probably not a deterrent to recent visitors.

Like Works, Therme Vals is loaded with photographs by Zumthor's go-to photographer, Hélène Binet. And just as the book intertwines an essay by Sigrid Hauser with one by Peter Zumthor, with text size and column widths signaling which is which, Binet's photos are spread throughout the book in a handful of groupings, with drawings, sketches, and model photos in between. Even though the photos — generally a representation of a building's completion — are spread across the book's pages (they are labeled Photographs I to V in the table of contents and are found roughly every 40 pages), the book moves logically from inspiration near the front to realization at the back. Most architects, I gather, will appreciate the middle portions, where Zumthor discusses the floor plan and then reveals details about the construction and materials. The latter are limited to concrete and the gneiss stone quarried in Vals, which combine to create a dark, labyrinthine interior dramatically lit from above. I hope to return someday to experience it again, but if not, this book will always remind me of that relaxing day in Vals.