The 2009 Pritzker Architecture Prize laureate is 66-year-old Swiss architect Peter Zumthor, best known for the Thermal Baths (1996) in Vals, Switzerland, which uses load-bearing concrete and local stone walls to create an ethereal complex of bathing pools. Zumthor has designed buildings around the world, although most of his work has been in Europe, close to his Swiss studio. He has maintained a small office (today totaling 15 staff) since 1979.

The quiet elegance of Zumthor's work stands in stark contrast to some of the more exhibitionist winners of recent years—Jean Nouvel (2008), Richard Rogers (2007), Thom Mayne (2005), and Zaha Hadid (2004), for example. The buildings are sometimes so simple as to appear almost mute. His Swiss Pavilion for Expo 2000 in Hannover, Germany, embraced the sustainable goals of the fair by creating a series of layered spaces between stacks of larch and Douglas pine from Swiss forests. At the conclusion of the exposition, the pavilion was dismantled, and the seasoned timber was sold for new construction. Two years ago, Zumthor built the Saint Bruder Klaus Field Chapel in Mechernich, Germany, by propping 112 tree trunks in a tentlike form, then pouring and ramming concrete around it over 24 days. A three-week-long smoldering fire dried the logs and expedited their removal from the inside of the chapel. Each project expresses Zumthor's devotion to simple, natural materials that are deployed in unusual ways to produce highly poetic and permanent structures.

Zumthor refers to his body of work as "small" and professed in a statement the desire that his award "should give much hope to young professionals that if they strive for quality in their work it might become visible without any special promotion." The prize, including $100,000 and a bronze medallion, will be presented to Zumthor at a May 29 ceremony in Buenos Aires.