Switzerland, Paraguay and South Korea were the settings for Peter Zumthor and Gloria Cabral's mentorship which began as busily as it was to continue for the next 12 months. Cabral flew to Seoul with Zumthor at the beginning of the mentoring year to discover the architectural wishes of a local client, a Catholic priest who wanted to build a tea chapel. Zumthor assigned Cabral to the project. During the year both mentor and protégée developed a strong bond and, as they come from different architectural traditions, she found there was much to discover. For Cabral, the year provided a steep learning curve on several fronts – she quickly improved her English so she could communicate with Zumthor's team at his base in Haldenstein, Switzerland. More crucially, she immersed herself in her mentor's architectural principles, according to which the personal and human have priority over stylistic flourishes: "My philosophy is … not to make a lot of architectural noise," says Zumthor. She made several visits to Haldenstein, spending up to a month each time working with her mentor and his team. Another highlight of the year was Zumthor's visit to Cabral's hometown, Asunción, Paraguay, where he was able to see the ingenious use of bricks by his protégée's architectural firm. Having originally chosen her as his protégée for her craftsmanship and fondness for building materials, he was delighted to find that her architecture is beautiful and impressive. "My experience here [in Asunción] has been very strong, getting to know another culture. Their work is very grounded, and there's a good aesthetic touch," says Zumthor.
Widely revered Swiss architect Peter Zumthor has gained international renown for his timeless buildings that incorporate his masterful use of materials and light in projects such as Switzerland's Therme Vals (1996). In 2008, the Pritzker Prize winner was commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to bring the museum into the 21st century. He won RIBA's Royal Gold Medal in 2013.
For Paraguayan architect Gloria Cabral, designing buildings is based on thinking about how the space will be used rather than conceiving them as objets d'art. Cabral studied architecture at the Universidad Nacional de Asunción. While still studying, she was employed as an intern at prestigious Asunción-based architecture firm, Gabinete de Arquitectura, and was made a full partner in 2004. For the past 10 years, she has worked with the Gabinete team on projects informed by strong environmental and social concerns, notably the Teletón Children's Spinal Injury Rehabilitation Centre, which won first prize at the 2010 Bienal Panamericana in the recycling category. Also a committed teacher, Cabral has been a professor at the Universidad Nacional de Asunción since 2009, and has served as visiting professor at universities in Panama and Peru. She also lectures at universities in several South American countries.
"It was sort of like a couple getting to know each other. You learn from each other. I feel sorry that we have to stop. But the way I do architecture, it is a long-term project. I'm sure we'll stay in contact – so you could say that Rolex has started something."
On working with his team and with Gloria Cabral: "I ask them what they think is good or bad about it? Everybody speaks. We then try to develop the design together. Basically, we share everything. Gloria has worked here like a normal project architect."
"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."
"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."