CLAD interview

David Chipperfield

David Chipperfield on architecture in a changing Europe

How do you feel about architecture in the UK at the moment?
In the past, the UK has not really nurtured its young architects. The commercial sector doesn’t naturally go to young architects and give them a chance. If I was investing £30 million in an office building, I would tend to go for the safer choice too.

The European tradition is still more of a state system. There are more chances for young architects to win competitions. And the judges are not investors, but people from the city or from the education department who will see an interesting project, not see a financial risk.

However, I think in the UK young practices are getting a bit more of a chance. The talent is very strong. The profession has always been resilient and the younger generation has always been resilient. There has always been talent that has surfaced.

And how do you feel about the UK vote to leave the EU?
It was one of the worst decisions ever made. When we have got so much to learn and so much to give to others culturally, building walls is just the daftest thing ever. All of the things that we can learn from our European colleagues are going to be abandoned. It’s bad for the mind. It’s bad for culture. It’s going to be very bad for British architecture.

Do you see an issue in the erosion of public space by private developers?
There is no doubt that in all European countries, the state is weaker than it was and private investment is stronger than it was. So even in a city like Berlin, now there is a lot of external money coming in.

The question is whether you can find some sort of balance between the energy and the gift that the investment gives and the shape and the independent qualities that the city and its citizens enjoy. That balance is a very difficult one.

In London, I think that there is planning permission for a further 200 towers right now, and there are more applications in the pipeline. Those are money packets; it’s not about building a city. They are still doing, one by one, projects that don’t necessarily add up to anything.

Where should that overriding vision come from?
In Europe, it will come from the city itself. There would be a preliminary project, with a number of different planning teams working together to come up with the buildings, the look, and so on. Through that process, which takes a few years, we get a consensual idea of what should be built and then there would be competitions for the buildings.

How would you sum up your philosophy of architecture?
That’s a big question. I think as architects we work in two different modes.

One is the physical. It is material. It is light, it is a window. It is how to make spaces and places where you like to be. At the other end of the spectrum, architects are interested in societal issues. Building a nice building that doesn’t stimulate how one sees the society is a bit weak.

Ideally, we like to bring these two things together. We would like to organise the physical things in a way that is nice and we would like to give it meaning by being purposeful in a societal way.

The danger is we’re being encouraged more and more to do signature buildings, which are photogenic and look good in magazines. As I get older, I’m less interested in architecture per se. I’m more interested in the societal issues of architecture and how we should be dealing with our cities, which I think we are leaving behind.

Why is it important that leisure spaces in our cities are well designed?
They represent the things that connect us. Contemporary society tends to celebrate and exaggerate individualism – through media, through iPhones. But, we are resilient creatures that want to gather. It is our desire to be part of something.

Our cities used to be representative of those ambitions but gradually territory is being privatised. And therefore, in Britain, we do rely more on the private sector to make gestures towards the public, the civic.

What has been the most exciting period of your career?
Now. For the first 10 years of your professional life, you’re basically fabricating something that’s not very real. For the next 10 years you’re trying to keep this thing afloat, and then for the following 10 years you’re trying to do substantial works.

Today we have incredible talent and wonderful collaborators. It’s not easy, but it’s easier in the sense that at least I don’t have to pretend to be an architect anymore. We have some credibility, which it is our responsibility to use.

My fear is whether we can optimise the enormous privilege we now have professionally. The worst thing that we could do would be to not live up to that.

But these really are good years. We have some phenomenal opportunities and I feel more engaged than ever.

David Chipperfield was interviewed by Magali Robathan. Read the full article in CLADmag issue 3 2017

Selected Works

Conversion of the former US Embassy
London, UK
The Eero Saarinen-designed former US Embassy in Grosvenor Square is being redeveloped into a hotel, spa and ballroom
Due for completion TBC

Neue Nationalgalerie
Berlin, Germany
Refurbishment of Mies van der Rohe’s Neue Nationalgalerie to address safety concerns and restore damaged parts of the original building
Due for completion 2019

Nobel Centre
Stockholm, Sweden
Headquarters for the Nobel Foundation, featuring an auditorium, exhibits, a restaurant, bar and outdoor public space
Due for completion 2019

Kunsthaus Zurich extension
Zurich, Switzerland
A major extension to the Kunsthaus Zurich, the new building will house a collection of classic modernism. A passageway underneath the square links the Kunsthaus with the new extension
Due for completion 2019

Zhejiang Museum of Natural History
ZhejIang province, China
Creation of huge 54,000sqm new complex for the Zhejiang Museum of Natural History, consisting of eight pavilions arranged around a central garden
Due for completion 2018

Royal Academy of Arts renovation
London, UK
Renovation and reconfiguration of the Royal Academy of Arts, including gallery exapansion, a new lecture theatre and a learning centre
Due for completion 2018

The Bryant
New York, New York
Thirty-three storey tower in Manhattan, housing luxury apartments and a hotel
Due for completion 2017

Saint Louis Art Museum expansion
Saint Louis, Missouri
The new wing extends from the original structure, with the same sandstone used in the 1904 museum
Completed 2013

Museo Jumex
Mexico City, Mexico
The museum houses one of the largest private collections of contemporary art in Mexico. The building stands on columns and features floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights
Completed 2013

The Hepworth Wakefield Gallery
Wakefield, UK
Gallery dedicated to the sculptor Barbara Hepworth
Completed 2011

Turner Contemporary
Margate, UK
Gallery dedicated to JMW Turner and his contemporaries, made up of six glass buildings
Completed 2011

Neues Museum
Berlin, Germany
Rebuilding the historic museum, badly damaged in World War II
Completed 2009

River and Rowing Museum
Henley-on-Thames, UK
Galleries celebrating the River Thames and the sport of rowing
Completed 1997

Zhejiang Museum of Natural History in Zhejiang, China
Zhejiang Museum of Natural History in Zhejiang, China
Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK
Turner Contemporary in Margate, UK
Nobel Centre in Stockholm, Sweden
Nobel Centre in Stockholm, Sweden
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company profile
Company profile: SPARCSTUDIO
Sparcstudio offers a bespoke and comprehensive design service with real attention to detail. Logical and inspiring space planning forms the bedrock of all Sparcstudio projects.
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This animation showcases the beautiful concept design of BluGalaxy Spa.
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