At the heart of Peter Zumthor’s Pavilion was a garden that the architect hoped would inspire visitors to become observers. Zumthor said his design aimed 'to help its audience take the time to relax, to observe and then, perhaps, start to talk again - maybe not.’ The design emphasised the role the senses and emotions play in our experience of architecture. With a refined selection of materials Zumthor created contemplative spaces that evoked the spiritual dimension of our physical environment. As always, Zumthor’s aesthetic goal was to customise the building precisely to its purpose as a physical body and an object of emotional experience.
The 2011 Pavilion was the architect's first completed building in the UK and included a specially created garden by the influential Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. The concept for the Pavilion was the hortus conclusus, a contemplative room, a garden within a garden. Visitors entered the building from the lawn and began the transition into the central garden, a place abstracted from the world of noise and traffic and the smells of London - an interior space within which to sit, to walk, to observe the flowers.
With this Pavilion, as with previous structures such as his famous Thermal Baths at Vals, Switzerland, or the Bruder Klaus Chapel in Mechernich, Germany, Zumthor has emphasised the sensory and spiritual aspects of the architectural experience, from the precise yet simple composition and 'presence' of the materials, to the handling of scale and the effect of light.
'A garden is the most intimate landscape ensemble I know of. It is close to us. There we cultivate the plants we need. A garden requires care and protection. And so we encircle it, we defend it and fend for it. We give it shelter. The garden turns into a place.
Enclosed gardens fascinate me. A forerunner of this fascination is my love of the fenced vegetable gardens on farms in the Alps, where farmers' wives often planted flowers as well. I love the image of these small rectangles cut out of vast alpine meadows, the fence keeping the animals out. There is something else that strikes me in this image of a garden fenced off within the larger landscape around it: something small has found sanctuary within something big.
The hortus conclusus that I dream of is enclosed all around and open to the sky. Every time I imagine a garden in an architectural setting, it turns into a magical place. I think of gardens that I have seen, that I believe I have seen, that I long to see, surrounded by simple walls, columns, arcades or the façades of buildings - sheltered places of great intimacy where I want to stay for a long time' - Peter Zumthor, May 2011
The Pavilion was the eleventh commission in the gallery's annual series, the world's first and most ambitious architectural programme of its kind.