Silvia Gmur – The Woman
We’ve come a far way from shunning conversations about successful women, and so it is that this article introduces a woman who could have started an architectural movement of her own. Her ideas, her commitment to detail and quality, the emotion that she injects into the structural veins of her buildings – Silvia Gmur has established herself as an architect to be remembered.
Born in 1939 in Zurich, Switzerland, Silvia Gmur studied architecture from ETH, continuing from there to work with architecture firm Mitchell-Giurgola in London and subsequently New York. In 1972, she opened her own practice, where her son Reto Gmur joined in 2002. The duo has worked on multiple projects since then and enjoys a very good relationship. To explore Silvia Gmur’s philosophical approach, it would be easier to dive into the projects themselves.
Solothurn Civil Hospital
With a great number of hospitals in her portfolio, Silvia Gmur likes to talk about Le Corbusier’s saying “A hospital is a house for a man” whenever she talks about her healthcare projects. She likes to develop a mature space-to-light relationship for her structures, trying to capture the different hues playing on the multiple components of her buildings. For instance, the Solothurn Civil Hospital radiates a mosque-like quality with the inclusion of naturally lit interior courtyards. The patients’ living areas, on the other hand, are planned in clusters to create small communities inside the wider space, giving the patient and their family a sense of hospitality. The wards are also given views of the countryside.
Pathology and Forensics Institute, St. Gallen
The Pathology and Forensics Institutes of St. Gallen’s Cantonal Hospital also make use of daylighting for a brighter, happier atmosphere inside, especially since the buildings are meant to house those who are unwell. A light shaft travels down into the solid overlapping squares, bringing in a little transparency to the rigid lines. Acting like the sun in itself, it is this point that turns into a center for the hospital wing, collecting and dispelling crowds like attractor points. Silvia Gmur also cleverly leaves this area column-free to encourage people to create spaces as they deem them fit.
The exterior of the building incorporates the use of aluminum and metal, with panels folding out to reveal glass. The panels work as sun-shading devices, turning the whole building into a mechanical tree – a collection of active and passive devices hungry for some sun. The rooms in the basement are lit through a clever arrangement of sunken areas and green spaces. Silvia Gmur does not take Le Corbusier lightly.
Another project where Gmur makes use of lighting is the Neumunster Hospital at Zollikerberg. Originally built between 1931 and 1933, the topography grants the building ample opportunity for creative design – and for architects, where there is a will, and plenty of space, there is a way!
Patients are given individual spaces to themselves, with access to the outside and views of the park. The common sitting area has bay windows on two walls, continuing the space out into the topography and visually extending the area enclosed. The entranceway almost lets the visitors dive into the courtyard, with its linear lighting and bold structural identity as it flows in from the exterior. The only place seemingly simple is the cafeteria, which was built with many constraints. Silvia Gmur did not let that affect her design – the addition is spatially peaceful and provides another opportunity for people to experience the greenery.
The materials in the building are left raw and untamed, to let the light bounce off the crevices and depressions to create a little magic around the building. This is a concept that Silvia Gmur follows through on her residential projects, also.
Two Houses in the Aegean Sea
Mirrored to each other and facing the extensive site, the two houses in the Aegean Sea are kept entirely white. Although the white can be attributed to the tropical climate, it has been kept for more aesthetic reasons. The atmospheric hues reflect off the surfaces, painting the building in various shades of pink, orange, and blue.
Silvia Gmur does not attempt to blend the architectural piece into the landscape – quite the opposite in fact. She allows the building to live through its own character and turns it into a sculptural addition to the landscape. One can sit and lounge on the patio facing the sea, watching the sun set into the water. The interior spaces open into the landscape through a plan designed deliberately to create movement between the areas.
Three houses in Beinwil am See
Three houses in Beinwil am See is another project Silvia Gmur did with Livio Vacchini. The houses follow a similar theme to her projects before – an interactive discourse between the interior and the exterior topography, while the design incorporates light and transparency to create an ambiance typical to Gmur’s aesthetic. The houses constitute two parts, one being a solid entity that encloses the living space within, while the other is an open invitation. The openings placed into the walls let the building breathe, and give greater visual weight to the actual limited space.
Hints of Le Corbusier’s pilotis show through the delicate corner supports, but Gmur emphasizes more so on the heavy volumetric aspect of the residence than on any other. The design also reflects the surroundings; not only do the large glazed panels help integrate the building into the landscape, but the rawness of the wall finish imitates the feel of the Neumunster Hospital to reflect light off in varying wavelengths, playing with one’s optical intellect.
Silvia Gmur is now 81 years old and stays as vital to the architectural world as she possibly could. Her time with Mitchel-Giurgola might have influenced the styles she eventually dived into, but her work speaks for itself.
Gmuerarch.ch. n.d. Silvia Gmür Reto Gmür Architekten | Home. [online] Available at: <http://www.gmuerarch.ch/e/index.cfm?ID=2>
GSD, H., 2014. Lecture and Exhibition Opening: Silvia Gmür, “A Hospital is a House for a Man”. [online] Youtube.com. Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWvF5VOQsWY>