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Signature buildings taking precedence over city development, says David Chipperfield

Can our cities find a balance between the energy and the gift that investment gives and the independent qualities that the city and its citizens enjoy?
– David Chipperfield

There is a “danger” that architects are being swayed to work on signature buildings at the expense of the coherent development of cities, according to David Chipperfield.

In an exclusive interview, published in the new issue of CLADmag, the British architect said that, particularly in the UK, planning was “being overtaken by investment”.

“In London I think there is planning permission for a further 200 towers right now, and more in the pipeline. Those are money packets; it’s not about building a city,” he said.

“Each investor will try their hardest to make a good building. They’ll say ‘we have a good architect, we’re spending a lot of money, we’re trying to do it right’. I think they’re being genuine about that, and investors in Britain now are a million times better than they were 20 years ago. However, they’re still working on projects one by one that don’t necessarily add up to anything.”

In contrast, Chipperfield argued that in continental Europe the state and private sector worked more in harmony on developing projects.

He said: “In Europe, the bigger vision would come from the city itself. The private sector and public sector work together. You get buy-in from the community; you get buy in from the planners. In the UK, there’s no proactive engagement in the planning process.

“[In the UK] we call our planners ‘development control officers’. The attitude is like when you have mice in your house and you need ‘pest control’, to hold things back. It’s a very clear demonstration of the move from a pro-active idea into a reactive one. Planning departments are underfunded and overwhelmed.”

Despite the pressure to create buildings that are “photogenic” and that will “look good in magazines”, Chipperfield said that he has become increasingly more interested in the societal issues of architecture.

“We want to create buildings with a certain architectural integrity, and we want to give those buildings meaning by being purposeful,” he said.

He argued that it's particularly crucial that public spaces and public realm are well designed, “because they represent the things that connect us.”

“Contemporary society tends to celebrate and exaggerate individualism, but we are resilient creatures that want to gather together,” he said. “Why do we go to restaurants and pay a fortune for something that we could have cooked at home, to sit in a room with 50 other people we never speak to? It’s our desire to be part of something bigger; to be part of society.

“Our cities used to be very representative of those ambitions. But gradually territory is being privatised. We’re less and less able to give a form to those ambitions, and – particularly in the UK – we rely increasingly on the private sector to make gestures towards the public. In the Germanic world, I feel that there’s a strong public voice. There are still planners with this philosophy and the state still has a voice. In Britain, there’s no coordinated public voice.”

The full interview with David Chipperfield can be read online, and on digital turning pages.

The new issue of CLADmag also features interviews with architects Thom Mayne and Joshua Prince-Ramus, and designers Yabu Pushelberg and Patricia Urquiola.

David Chipperfield  architecture  design  planning  urbanism  development  CLADglobal 
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There is a “danger” that architects are being swayed to work on signature buildings at the expense of the coherent development of cities, according to David Chipperfield. In an exclusive interview, published in the new issue of CLADmag, the British architect said that, particularly in the UK, planning was “being overtaken by investment”. “In London I think there is planning permission for a further 200 towers right now, and more
CLD,ARC,DES,PHR
Chipperfield argued that it's crucial for public spaces to be well designed 'because they represent the things that connect us' / Alex de Brabant for The Talks
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