House South Devon, New English Property, Peter Zumthor Home, Residence in Southwest England

The Secular Retreat, Devon – Living Architecture

Secular Retreat South Devon, England design by Architect Peter Zumthor in UK

15 Nov 2018

The Secular Retreat in Devon

Architect: Peter Zumthor, Architect

Location: South Devon, Southwest England, UK

The Secular Retreat

The Secular Retreat is designed by Peter Zumthor for Living Architecture and is scheduled for completion in December 2018.

«It has become rare to be able to sit in a house and look out at a beautiful landscape where no trace of another building interrupts the lines of the rolling hills. Quietness, contemplation, pure luxury. I could not resist to try to create this house.»

Peter Zumthor

Secular Retreat - The Long House: Peter Zumthor home in Devon

Photographs © Jack Hobhouse/Living Architecture

Living Architecture is delighted to announce the near completion of Secular Retreat, Chivelstone, Devon, designed by Pritzker prize-winning architect Peter Zumthor. It will be the architect’s first permanent building in the UK, and marks the seventh commission in a visionary series of houses designed by leading artists and architects in distinctive, unique sites across England.

Secular Retreat Peter Zumthor home in Devon

The house is situated on a South Devon hilltop, one mile from the coast above the small Hamlet of Chivelstone.

The dramatic layered-concrete and glass design sits horizontally on the site, framing stunning views across the landscape in all directions. Handrammed concrete forms both the interior and exterior spaces, to give the building a mass and scale characteristic of Zumthor’s work.

Secular Retreat by Peter Zumthor in Devon

Peter Zumthor has been described as one of the greatest architects at work in the world today. He was awarded the Pritzker Prize in 2009, and the RIBA Gold Medal in 2013.

Renowned buildings he designed include the Thermal Baths at Vals in Switzerland, the Bruder Klaus Chapel outside Cologne in Germany and the Kolumba Museum in Cologne. He is currently working on designs for museums in Basel and Los Angeles, alongside many other commissions.

In 2011 he designed the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, a black painted structure with internal corridors leading to a courtyard that housed a garden designed by Piet Oudolf.

Secular Retreat house by Peter Zumthor in Devon

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.

Secular Retreat house by Peter Zumthor in South Devon England

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.

Secular Retreat house by Peter Zumthor in Devon England

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 realisation of his long-held vision for this Devon hillside.

Secular Retreat house by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor in South Devon, England:
Secular Retreat house by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor in South Devon, UK


→ Peter Zumthor
→ Rainer Weitschies,

Project Architect
→ Duarte Brito
→ Pascal Berchtold
→ Tom Tsapkov
→ Anna Page
alongside many more of the in-house team

→ Architect:
Atelier Peter Zumthor
→ Executive Architect (phase 1):
Mole Architects
→ Local architectural advisor (concept
phase): David Sheppard Architects
→ Landscape Design and Consultant:
The Rathbone Partnership
→ Construction management:
Simon Cannon Ltd
→ Concrete frame
Woodmace Concrete Structures Ltd
→ Structural Engineer:
Jane Wernick Associates
→ Quantity Surveyor:
KM Dimensions
→ Environmental Design Engineer

Secular Retreat house by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor in South Devon, England


Over the last decade, Living Architecture has commissioned carefully designed and thought-provoking domestic houses, available to all for holidays in the best of modern architecture. With a mission to promote, educate and influence discussion, the houses provide an immersive architectural experience, created by some of the most relevant architects and artists working today.

Secular Retreat completes a visionary series that has realised seven landmark projects across England including the award-winning Dune House in Thorpeness, Suffolk (Jarmund/Vigsnæs Architects); Balancing Barn in Thorington, Suffolk (MVRDV); Shingle House, Dungeness, Kent (NORD); Life House, Wales (John Pawson); and A House for Essex (FAT architecture and Grayson Perry). A Room for London (David Kohn Architects with artist Fiona Banner) was commissioned by Living Architecture and Artangel and installed on the rooftop of Queen Elizabeth Hall for the Olympic year of 2012, where it remained until February 2018.

Secular Retreat house by Swiss architect Peter Zumthor in Devon, England

Previously on e-architect:

The Secular Retreat

Architect: Peter Zumthor, Architects

Location: South Devon

A space dedicated to calm, reflection and perspective, The Secular Retreat is a veritable haven from the pressures of modern life. In South Devon, between the resorts of Salcombe and Hallsands, lies a landscape of rolling hills, wooded river valleys, patchwork fields and small stone villages. It is here that Zumthor is designing his first project in the UK – The Secular Retreat, a hill-top retreat, where people will be able to go for periods of sustained work and reflection.

The Secular Retreat

Peter Zumthor house in South Devon England UK
image from Living Architecture

The design makes use of an original rammed concrete that gives the building a mass and scale characteristic of a timeless example of ecclesiastical architecture.

Peter Zumthor says “The Living Architecture concept appealed to me right away. When Mark Robinson showed me the site in Chivelstone, Devon, I fell in love with the place. It felt like a unique opportunity to create a work of architecture, merging and growing out of the landscape. So now, two years later, I hope our design feels British, does have the ‘smell’ of the area, somehow, and will become part of the local chemistry of things. Visitors to the house should feel that they never want to leave, or at least want to return again and again.”

The Secular Retreat – Project Team

• Architect: Atelier Peter Zumthor
• Structural Engineer: Jane Wernick Associates
• Quantity Surveyors: Boyden Group LLP

Peter Zumthor

Swiss architect Peter Zumthor is frequently described as the greatest architect at work in the world today and was awarded the internationally prestigious Pritzker Prize in 2009. He is famous for his baths at Vals in Switzerland, his Bruder Chapel outside Cologne in Germany and his Kolumba Museum in Cologne itself. He is a master of craftsmanship, and an expert in the use of natural materials, which gives his buildings an eternal quality.

Peter Zumthor

Living Architecture has commissioned houses by NORD, MVRDV and Hopkins Architects.

Long House – house design for Living Architecture by Hopkins Architects:
The Long House
image from Living Architecture

Dune House – house design for Living Architecture by JVA:
Dune House
image from Living Architecture

Shingle House – house design for Living Architecture by NORD:
Shingle House
image from Living Architecture

Balancing Barn – house design for Living Architecture by MVRDV:
Balancing Barn
photo : Edmund Sumner

Living Architecture Houses

– The Balancing Barn, MVRDV (the Netherlands) in Thorington, Suffolk. Due to complete October 2010.

– The Shingle House, Nord Architecture (UK) in Dungeness, Kent. Due to complete November 2010.

– The Dune House, Jarmund/Vigsnæs Architects (Norway) in Thorpeness, Suffolk. Due to complete end of 2010.

– The Long House, Hopkins Architects (UK) in Cockthorpe, Norfolk. Due to complete Spring 2011.

– A Secular Retreat, Peter Zumthor (Switzerland) in South Devon. Due to complete Winter 2011.

Living Architecture Houses – information + images

Devon Buildings

Location: Devon, England, UK

English Beach Houses – Selection

Dungeness Beach House
Simon Conder Associates
Black Rubber Beach House
photo © Stephen Ambrose 07866 602627
Black Rubber Beach House Dungeness

El Ray
Simon Conder Associates
El Ray
photo © Paul Smoothy
El Ray Dungeness : Stephen Lawrence Prize winner 2009

English Houses – Selection

Underhill House, Cotswolds, west England
Seymour-Smith Architects
Hill Barn Cotswolds
image from architect
Underhill House

Black House, Cambridgeshire
Mole Architects
Black House England
photo : John Donat
Black House

Living Architecture

Living Architecture has asked a series of established and emerging world-class architects to build houses around the UK. The houses will be available to rent for holidays by the general public.

The inspiration for Living Architecture came from a desire for people to be able to experience what it is like to live, eat and sleep in a space designed by an outstanding architectural practice. Whilst there are examples of great modern buildings in Britain, they tend to be in places that one passes through (eg. airports, museums, offices), and the few modern houses that exist are almost all in private hands and cannot be visited.

Living Architecture will start to open its houses for holiday rentals in the spring of 2010. Further information can be found at

The Living Architecture team comprises of chairman, Dickon Robinson, director, Mark Robinson and executive architect, Meredith Bowles (Mole Architects). The advisory team are Stuart Lipton, property developer, ex chairman CABE; Tom Bloxham, chairman of Urban Splash; Ambassador Alexis Lautenberg, Swiss ambassador to the UK; Michael Morris, co-director of Artangel; Alain de Botton, writer and architectural critic and Peter Rogers, director of Stanhope.

Devon Architects

Suffolk College

English Houses – Selection

BRE House

Georgian House

Hampshire Poolhouse

Hemp House

Shell House

Windermere House

Comments / photos for The Secular Retreat England Architecture – House by Peter Zumthor in South Devon page welcome