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A rare look at Peter Zumthor architecture in Grisons

7132 Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor

For those as interested in Swiss architecture as me, Graubünden should be top of the list.

With landmark buildings by architects Peter Zumthor as well as Rudolf and Valerio Olgiati, it is a veritable hot spot for archilovers (and photographers).

My goal during a recent weekend trip with my family was to have a close look at architecture in Graubünden. This expedition to Vals and Flims was organized by Graubünden Tourism and I would like to thank them for their great support and for giving me this rare opportunity.

The town of Vals features more than one Zumthor building

Our trip from Chur to Vals starts with a ride in a local train to Ilanz. The iconic red train follows the river Rhine with beautiful vistas on the Rheinschlucht gorge. Note to self: we will need to return for some hiking in summer or autumn...

Surprisingly, our train is running late which causes us to get slightly nervous: we might miss our connecting Postbus in Ilanz. Luckily, the bus driver is waiting for the train to arrive and we are quickly on our way to Vals.

Located at 1250 meters above sea level, Vals has a population of about 1000 people. When you first arrive in Vals, you cannot miss the hotel complex at the entrance of the village.

It was constructed by a German property developer around the only thermal springs in Graubünden in the 1960s. Today, the water of the springs is split among the Therme Vals and the famous Valser bottled water.

Some background on Peter Zumthor architecture and the 7132 Therme

Slightly higher up the hill is the entrance to the 7132 Therme, built from 60'000 local quartzite slabs.

The building is so special that only two years after its inauguration, it was already granted protected heritage status.

7132 Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor

The Swiss architect behind this marvel is Peter Zumthor. Born in Basel in 1943, Zumthor originally trained as a cabinet maker. He would continue his studies at the Kunstgewerbeschule before studying industrial design and architecture at the Pratt Institute in New York in 1966.

Zumthor founded his own architecture firm in 1979 and was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2009.

Luckily, I got to explore the 7132 Therme more than once. Firstly, in an early morning setting with noone around in order to photograph it. And later, I would return as a regular spa visitor during the afternoon. And I must say, both experiences were quite unique!

In total there are seven different pools. Each has its own particular atmosphere and water temperatures ranging from 14 to 42 degrees Celsius. The calmness and dim lights of the morning made me appreciate the architecture even more.

7132 Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor

Returning in the afternoon, all our senses were occupied: the scenery was a feast for the eyes! The blossom pool had a great scent and the sound pool was a new experience.

On top, we got to taste the source water in order to get re-hydrated. The amazing feel of the pools with their varying temperatures and dimensions turned this visit into a truly memorable experience.

My favorite bath was the Spring Grotto with its tunnel leading to the grotto cave with its high ceilings. For my wife, the 36-degree Celsius pool which also leads outdoors where you can bask in the sun and admire the mountains surrounding the premises was the winner. There is definitely an atmosphere for everyone.

7132 Therme Vals by Peter Zumthor

What it's like inside the Peter Zumthor vacation homes in Leis

It is a lesser known fact that Peter Zumthor has also built three vacation homes just a short drive from Vals in the hamlet of Leis. Here at 1526 meters above sea level, we get the opportunity to stay in the Türmlihus.

The "tower house" is dedicated to Zumthor's wife and was completed in 2013.

Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland

Nestled in the mountains, the three vacation homes are entirely built of wood, making you feel warm and cozy as soon as you enter.

Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland
Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland

The floor to ceiling windows frame the landscape and the views on the local chapel in an impressive fashion. Every detail in this house has been carefully considered.

Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland
Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland

In the evenings, my family and I would find ourselves listening to the absence of the usual city noise we are used to. And after spending a peaceful night, we would have breakfast with the sun rising from behind the mountains.

Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland

Staying at Zumthor's own Türmlihus was a great experience. As I am looking through the many photographs of the weekend, I am appreciating more and more how the architect used the organic construction materials.

Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland
Zumthor Vacation Homes in Leis, Switzerland

Be it through the wood or the local quartzite slabs, I am absorbing the Zumthor style. My son even stated: "I want to move here, into this house!"

Since we wanted to see the surroundings, we decided on a winter hike to Lake Zervreila.

The easy 5.3-kilometer path is well prepared and is filled with stunning views all along. We had some amazing weather that morning and decided on sledding our way back on the six-kilometer long road!

 Winter Hike to Lake Zervreila
 Winter Hike to Lake Zervreila

One more Zumthor project before our departure...

Our architecture weekend in Graubünden flew by and it is already time to leave. But since the train back to Lausanne leaves from Chur, we make a quick stop at one of Peter Zumthor's first projects from 1986: the shelter over the Roman archaeological site.

Zumthor Roman Archaeological Site in Chur, Switzerland
Zumthor Roman Archaeological Site in Chur, Switzerland

The shelter is built almost exclusively from timber lamella that allow both light and ventilation into the museum space. You can obtain the key for the building at the train station when you arrive in Chur. It is even more impressive to have this building all for yourself when you visit.

My recommended places to see when you visit Vals and Chur:

Dominik Gehl

Based in Lausanne, Dominik Gehl is a software engineer by day. His hobbies include traveling the world, reading and photography. Oh, and he loves coffee and tea. All images © Dominik Gehl.

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Dominik Gehl

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