Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has completed his Secular Retreat – a Living Architecture holiday home that the public can rent out for short stays on a hilltop in South Devon, UK. The dramatic layered-concrete and glass design sits horizontally on the site, framing stunning views across the landscape in all directions. Hand-rammed concrete forms both the interior and exterior spaces, to give the building a mass and scale characteristic of Zumthor’s work. The project is Zumthor’s first permanent building in the UK and marks the seventh commission in the Living Architecture series.
With Secular Retreat, Peter Zumthor continues his tradition of creating thoughtful and timeless architecture. The house sits in the place of a ruined timber house constructed in the 1940’s. Links to the original site remain, with a small hexagonal shaped walled area made out of layers of concrete block, and the now 20-metre-tall Monterey Pine trees planted to shield the original house. In character with Zumthor’s approach, the landscape and garden are central to the concept of the house. The garden is designed with the South Devon based Rathbone Partnership and comprises the planting of some 5,000 local species of trees and shrubs. Terraces and pathways are made of rough-hewn Somerset Blue Lias stone, set on edge.
Zumthor is renowned for his craftsmanship and expertise in the use of materials, which give his buildings an eternal quality. Creating and maintaining the consistency of concrete to produce the hand-rammed walls, and the engineering of both structure and integration of services throughout the main concrete frame, was delivered by a dedicated group of UK architects, consultants and contractors, who have come together with Zumthor’s team to produce this exemplary building.
The house will accommodate up to ten people in five bedrooms and is formed of two separate bedroom wings which lead from the large central open-plan living space. The design and construction required a series of exacting processes to be undertaken, from the careful placing amongst the existing trees, the orientation on the site to make the best of the views and natural light, to the creation of new gardens and outside areas.
Internally, the continuous ribbons of layered-concrete are set against stone floors, each slab cut to a different size and shape reflecting the raw material sourced directly from a Somerset quarry. Bedrooms are simple in form – a large carved niche within the concrete fabric, timber Pearwood floors leading to full height and width windows, allowing views onto the gardens and the surrounding valleys. Ensuite bathrooms continue this theme, with a combination of stone and rammed concrete. Throughout, the carefully crafted joinery of doors, inset shelves, wardrobes and kitchen furniture, all made from apple and cherry woods, bring a warmth and depth of contrast to the handmade concrete walls. With sofas, chairs, tables and lights all designed by Zumthor, Secular Retreat is the realization of his long-held vision for this Devon hillside.