Märkli’s buildings are created slowly, with much deliberation, and possess their own distinctive poetics. Märkli is convinced that the principles of classicism and proportionality are an expression of revolutionary ideas. He knows that being an architect means not just acquiring knowledge at university – it is a process that must be absorbed and it is the burden of history that must be preserved. He once described his approach as designing a square in which one angle is slightly off – it may not be perfect, but it is perfect enough to express all that a square needs to say. His goal is to emulate the proportions and spaces of the classical orders, and he believes that rules exist for a particular reason. “If I create a door, it’s not just a door. I know that you want to enter and exit, but you are also looking at the door’s dimensions and meaning and everything around it. That is the greater part of the profession.”
Talking about Märkli, Beatrice Galilee says: “Swiss architects have been particularly adept at embracing both modern materials and ancient monumentality. Märkli’s entire logic is based on the idea of architecture as a continually evolving canon of law that cannot be abandoned. But in Switzerland there is a sense that it hasn’t been abandoned. Despite Switzerland’s diversity of languages and cultures, it has never had to face the explosive industrialization, wartime destruction or social engineering experiments of the 1960s and 70s that other countries went through. The reason that the kind of young architects Märkli criticizes are emerging and building so fast is because the demand is great, materials and fabrication processes are advancing quickly, and they are morphing into what their clients want.”
One revolutionary building by Märkli is his remarkable “La Congiunta” building (Ticino, 1992), built to house the sculptures of Hans Josephson. Since then, he has designed numerous buildings of varying sizes, as well as larger building complexes. Examples include the Novartis visitor center in Basel (2006) and the New Synthes building in Solothurn (2012). He has also designed numerous residential buildings and has participated in many exhibitions, for instance at the Venice Architecture Biennale (2012), the Architektur Galerie Berlin (2005, 2008), the Tokyo Museum of Art (2008), the Architekturmuseum Basel, Gallery A4 Tokyo (2012), and Betts Project London (2016, 2017).
Peter Märkli (1953) studied architecture at ETH Zurich, where he later taught as a professor (2002–2015). While still at secondary school, he met the architect Rudolf Olgiati (the father of Valerio Olgiati), who became his friend and advisor and from whom he learned the basic elements of architecture. Later, during his studies at ETH, he met the sculptor Hans Josephson, who taught Märkli how to look at sculpture and painting, and with whom he went on several trips to Italy. In 1978, he founded his own studio in Zurich. Märkli was greatly influenced by his visit to the French province of Saintonge and by a tour of the Palladian villas.
Drawing plays an important role in the work of Peter Märkli, not just as designs or sketches, but especially as basic studies for his work. Most of these drawings look nothing like his final buildings; instead, they possess a distinct graphic quality, a highly personal style, a poetics full of emotion, and the ability to reveal to us the architect’s vision and sources of inspiration. He himself is of the opinion that architecture is a form of art. He accepts that the architect’s creations are more strict, but he touches on the visual impact of his architecture in the same manner as when analyzing the physical mass of a sculpture or a painting’s composition.
Most of Märkli’s drawings are created in his small Zurich studio. His abstract motifs, landscapes, and ideas about facades then form the foundation for his later building projects. Although many of the drawings are not associated with any project, they are vitally important for Märkli’s creative process. When he is drawing, he is not thinking about materials and shadows, but only proportions. After a final deliberation, he creates a footprint using thick-line drawings at a scale of 1:100, then he creates a 1:20 cross-section and sends the drawings to his employees at a second studio, where they prepare technical drawings and the final construction plans.
The exhibition consists of drawings dating back to 1980, thus offering a convincing picture of Märkli’s way of thinking that draws us into his poetic world…
Speaking of his drawings, Märkli says: “A sketch is the germ of an idea that does not yet contain details. A sketch must be created at a small scale in order to avoid expanding on certain details. It is like when a writer comes up with the idea for a novel. He might know for sure that the novel will have three main protagonists, but he does not yet know how the plot will evolve. Whenever you have a motif and idea, you have to do a lot of drawing before you have worked your way to the end. You might make ten of them and look, and just at that moment you realize that you know enough, and it is done. You might return to such a series much later – that, too, is quite possible. Twenty years after I created a series of facades composed of squares – many different kinds of squares, none of them regular – I built a house using that same motif. That building, situation, and landscape, they all needed that facade.”