Architecture is evolving towards new forms and designs capable of reinventing traditional techniques and materials. These advances result in buildings as beautiful as the Saint Benedict Chapel in the municipality of Sumvitg, Graubünden (Switzerland).
This fabulous work of engineering located in the slopes of the Swiss Alps has been masterfully produced by Pritzker prize winner Peter Zumthor. The chapel occupies the space of a former baroque construction which was destroyed by an avalanche. In its place, Zumthor chose to erect a building using the characteristic materials of the region’s traditional architecture, protected from possible landslides by a dense forest.
With an unconventional water droplet or birch leaf shaped floor, the Swiss architect erected the chapel with a facade made from overlapping pieces of wood. This material is also prominent in the interior of the construction where long beams of wood sustain the spectacular roof, strengthened with rafters reminiscent of the striations of a leaf or the roof of a boat.
A ring of glass panels, set just below the roof, allow smooth, warming natural light to enter and bathe the chapel. The absence of decorative elements, reduced to the pews and the altar, all made from wood, eliminates any type of distraction, focusing all the visitor’s attention on the inner world. This minimalist aesthetic evidences the architect’s past as a joinery apprentice and his vocation for combining traditional quality with modern thinking.
In the vicinity of the chapel by Peter Zumthor, the remains of the former baroque chapel have been conserved, establishing a dialogue between history, tradition and modernity which characterise the work of this genius of modern architecture.
Photos by Felipe Camus.