The Small Red One



The Small Red One

(Original article by Jonas Bjerre-Poulsen @, translation by Nicholas Frickelton)

I’m not thinking of Chairman Mao’s book, but a fine small red book by Peter Zumthor that I bought some time ago, recently rediscovered in the bookcase due to its intense color, and re-read. The book is titled “Thinking Architecture” and is a collection of free imaginings and personal considerations in the context of a life of architecture. The book tells how many pictures of architecture come to him through childhood memories, which immediately brings to my mind Walter Benjamin’s childhood descriptions from Berlin or Gaston Bachelard’s La Poétique de l’Espace.

In common between these books (and many other books that concern  a phenomenological approach to architectural thinking) is that they revolve around how you can create architecture from impressions about how rooms will be experienced purely by the senses, rather than from formalized or abstract rationales. I think most of us, entirely in our mind, can take a walk through our childhood home, able to recall every nook and cranny. We recall the lighting in the home, remember the surfaces, the weight of a door handle, the sound of the floors and the scent of every room. We can even mentally recall the taste of most of the things we sucked on and tasted, and most of us can probably also describe what the dining table looked like from underneath. As children we sense the world very strongly. As is true for many other early experiences, the experience of architecture in childhood creates the frame of reference for how we experience rooms in adulthood. The point here, that I’ve made many times before, is that we should try to think of architecture with the same sensibility as when we were children, for a time forgetting the spectacular  facades and focusing on how rooms will feel.

Here are some pictures of Peter Zumthor’s architecture. Many of the pictures contain a certain emptiness and melancholia that I find appealing in the same way that sad music can contain incredible beauty. It touches something childish in me.



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