German Town Rejects Peter Zumthor-Designed Glass Tower
February 17, 2012
Peter Zumthor presents models of his “New City Gate” to the community of Isny. Photo: Laura Loewel
The citizens of Isny, a small town in southern Baden-Württemberg, Germany, have voted to veto a project by Peter Zumthor for a new city gate meant to bolster Isny’s appeal as a tourist destination. Given his deliberate and careful approach to design, the Pritzker laureate seemed the ideal candidate for the job. The town wanted to rebuild Isny’s historical upper gate as a way to revitalize the downtown district while distinguishing it from neighboring cities, which have recently undertaken several sizable (and effective) regeneration projects of their own. It was hoped that the selection of Zumthor, a contemporary architect whose works are firmly rooted in their cultural and geographical contexts, would produce a striking, yet appropriate design that built upon Isny’s building heritage. What they got was something else entirely. Continue.
Zumthor’s “New City Gate” is a peculiar object, and it isn’t difficult why it failed to fully win over the townsfolk, who assailed the project with nicknames such as “glass underpants” and “the glass molar”. The tower oscillates strangely from a desire to present itself as an icon and a wish to blend into the cityscape behind it, resulting in a dithering, preposterous form that comes off as naive and undercooked. Two glass trunks spaced uncomfortably close to one another rise to join to form the base of an ovoid solid containing an auditorium; seen from the right angle (below) the structure does indeed look like the ill-proportioned bottom half of some phantom giant. In its solipsistic strangeness, Zumthor’s project achieves little of anything, cowering from any critical standpoint and failing to propose a sufficiently interesting design solution.
The glass tower was estimated to cost the city close to €20 million, the majority of which the mayor, the project’s greatest champion, repeatedly assured the populace would come from private funds. Suggestions that the project, which Zumthor planned to build out of half a million glass bricks, be reduced in size or made thinner were immediately shot down by the architect, whose vision can be described as authoritarian without exaggeration. Nearly three-quarters of the town voted to put an end to the New City Gate, a verdict which is considered absolute by Isny law. Zumthor, for his part, seems to have taken the defeat with some grace, though he did blame the loss on the conservatism of the town citizens–offering the explanation that “cultural objects in democratic processes have a hard time. . . .They would prefer a continuation of the proven”–instead of on the project’s evident shortcomings.