The young Paraguayan architect, Cabral, has been working on the design of a tea chapel at a religious site in South Korea with her mentor, the Pritzker Prize-winning Swiss architect, Peter Zumthor. In the past year, Gloria’s involvements with Peter have included spells at his studio in Haldenstein, and a visit to the project site in Namyang.
Rolex Arts Initiative: Ideally, what do you think the role of a mentor should be? And what was your first significant impression of Peter Zumthor’s particular kind of energy or inquisitiveness?
Gloria Cabral: I think the role of a protégée is to learn from the roads already travelled by their mentor, and then for the protégé to choose his or her own path.
One of the first things I learned about Peter was his sensitivity to situations and atmospheres. I can tell you a little story that illustrates that. In Haldenstein, where Peter’s studio is, the music we hear is cowbells, or the sound of the mountain breeze. Other than that, there’s just the murmuring of everyone working in the studio. One morning, I remember that, oddly, we heard a strange noise. We were in a meeting, and Peter appeared, with a puzzled frown, asking: “What’s that?” Seconds later, his face broke into a smile. He said, “It’s the train.” And what had been an annoying noise turned into a kind of song – it was one of his grandchildren playing with a toy train.
This Rolex project has not only connected you with one of the world’s greatest living architects, but also gave you your first experience of Europe? What was your first reaction to working in Switzerland?
When I was small, I had to choose between becoming Paraguayan, or retaining my original Brazilian citizenship. My father told me it didn’t matter, because I wasn’t from either Paraguay or Brazil – I was from the world. So I don’t think there’s any difference between working in America, Europe, or any other continent. What we all know is that there are seven billion people in the world, and we know that the way we live and work is having an impact right to the four corners of the earth.
How long did it take you to feel comfortable with Peter Zumthor, and to feel at home in his studio?
From the start, I felt like one of the team. I couldn’t have been myself if I hadn’t felt that way! As for language problems, they don’t always mean a communication problem. So, although obviously language and conversation were problems at the start, they never meant problems with communication, thanks to the efforts made by both sides.
By now, you experience Peter Zumthor as both an eminent architect, and as a teacher. Were there any surprising moments in this teacher-student relationship?
In my first week as Peter’s protégée, I travelled to Korea. We went to look at the site for the project that I was going to be involved in. In Seoul, people were constantly coming up to Peter and asking for a photo, or an autograph, or just to congratulate him on his work.
Has there been any single moment in the project that you have found particularly satisfying?
In February 2015, at Peter’s studio, I had to give a presentation about the Korean tea chapel project to the design team. That experience was special to me, because in explaining the project I described it in a way that made it mine, in a way, but also completely part of the whole team effort.