Civic architect, urban planner and activist, Sir David Alan Chipperfield CH

Civic architect, urban planner and activist, Sir David Alan Chipperfield CH, has been selected as the 2023 Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize, an award recognised internationally as architecture’s highest honour.

Described as a prolific architect who is radical in his restraint, demonstrating his reverence for history and culture while honouring the pre-existing built and natural environments, Chipperfield reimagines the functionality and accessibility of new buildings, renovations and restorations through timeless modern design that confronts climate urgencies, transforms social relationships and reinvigorates cities.

The role of architects

“I am overwhelmed to receive this extraordinary honour and to be associated with the previous recipients, who have all given so much inspiration to the profession,” remarks Chipperfield. “I take this award as an encouragement to continue to direct my attention not only to the substance of architecture and its meaning, but also to the contribution that we can make as architects to address the existential challenges of climate change and societal inequality.

“We know that, as architects, we can have a more prominent and engaged role in creating not only a more beautiful world but a fairer and more sustainable one too. We must rise to this challenge and help inspire the next generation to embrace this responsibility with vision and courage.”

Morland Mixité Capitale, photo courtesy of Simon Menges

Sustainable design

Spanning over four decades, his more than one hundred works are expansive in typology and geography, ranging from civic, cultural and academic buildings to residences and urban master planning throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

The 2023 Jury Citation of the Laureate states, in part: “This commitment to architecture of understated but transformative civic presence and the definition – even through private commissions – of the public realm, is done always with austerity, avoiding unnecessary moves and steering clear of trends and fashions, all of which is a most relevant message to our contemporary society.

“Such a capacity to distil and perform meditated design operations is a dimension of sustainability that has not been obvious in recent years: Sustainability as pertinence, not only eliminates the superfluous but is also the first step to creating structures able to last, physically and culturally.”

Chipperfield calculates the environmental and historical impacts of permanence, embracing the pre-existing, designing and intervening in dialogue with time and place to adopt and refresh the architectural language of each locale.

James-Simon-Galerie (Berlin, Germany, 2018), situated on a narrow island along the Kupfergraben canal and accessible by the Schlossbrücke bridge, serves as the gateway to Museum Island. Commanding, though discreet, colonnades with grand scale enclose a terrace, a wide expansive staircase and a manifold of open spaces to allow abundant light into the large entryway of the building. The design enables generous views from within and beyond, even through to adjacent buildings and the surrounding urban landscape.

“He is assured without hubris, consistently avoiding trendiness to confront and sustain the connections between tradition and innovation, serving history and humanity,” comments Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation, which sponsors the award. “While his works are elegantly masterful, he measures the achievements of his designs by social and environmental welfare to enhance the quality of life for all of civilisation.”

Turner Contemporary, photo courtesy of Simon Menges

Preserving history

In renovative works, his precision is imbued with historical acumen, informing his vision to invariably redeem original design and structure rather than supplant it wholly with modern architecture. Chipperfield reflects: “As an architect, I’m in a way the guardian of meaning, memory and heritage.

“Cities are historical records, and architecture after a certain moment is a historical record. Cities are dynamic, so they don’t just sit there, they evolve. And in that evolution, we take buildings away and replace them with others. We choose ourselves, and the concept of only protecting the best is not enough. It’s also a matter of protecting character and qualities that reflect the richness of the evolution of a city.”

The Neues Museum (Berlin, Germany, 2009), originally constructed in the mid-19th century and left devastated and uninhabitable during World War II, demonstrates Chipperfield’s discernment between preservation, reconstruction and addition.

The novel is in conversation with the old, as architecture of the past is brought to the foreground, yielding moments of modernity such as a striking new main stairwell flanked by walls revealing traces of original frescoes and repurposed materials, even those that were marred by wartime blemishes. Generous outdoor space makes it a connector for all, even for those who never enter the galleries.

James-Simon-Galerie, Museo Jumex, photo courtesy of Simon Menges

Alejandro Aravena, jury chair and 2016 Pritzker Prize Laureate, elaborates: “In a world where many architects view a commission as an opportunity to add to their own portfolio, he responds to each project with specific tools that he has selected with preciseness and great care.

“Sometimes it requires a gesture that is strong and monumental, while other times it requires him to almost disappear. But his buildings will always stand the test of time because the ultimate goal of his operation is to serve the greater good. The avoidance of what’s fashionable has allowed him to remain permanent.”

His restoration and reinvention of the Procuratie Vecchie (Venice, Italy, 2022), which dates back to the 16th century, redefined the civic ability of this building within the heart of the city, to allow general access for the first time. He elevates partnership through his processes, upholding his belief that architecture and craft are intertwined.

He called upon traditional craftsmen to revive original frescoes, terrazzo and pastellone flooring and plasterworks, uncovering layers of history, while incorporating local artisan and building techniques to produce modern correlative interventions such as a vertical circulation. The restored building now enables views from above and within, revealing rooftop terraces, exhibition and event spaces, an auditorium and an enfilade of arches that diverge into galleries.

Every work becomes a civic undertaking serving society, such as the America’s Cup Building “Veles e Vents” (Valencia, Spain, 2006), intended primarily as a temporary hospitality venue for offshore teams and sponsors. Exterior space exceeds interior and the cantilevered viewing decks are miradors, generous in size, some spanning 15 metres in width around the perimeter of each overlapping level.

Chipperfield infuses a programme for the public, through first-floor retail spaces and an accessible deck that offers unrestricted views of the canal and city below. A ramp from this level creates a direct pathway to a park just north of the site.

His restoration and addition of Morland Mixité Capitale (Paris, France, 2022) revitalises the neighbourhood with affordable and luxury housing, retail and restaurant venues, a hotel and youth hostel, an installation space and an urban rooftop garden. By raising the new volumes on vaulted loadbearing arcades which continue along at the base of the original building, the architect creates a space to gather, inviting those to pass by or pass through the new visual and physical passageway to the Seine River from the Boulevard Morland.

Inagawa Cemetery Chapel and Visitor Centre, photo courtesy of Keiko Sasaoka

Whether through public or private buildings, he bestows unto society the opportunity for coexistence and communion, protecting individuality while fostering a societal sense of belonging. The headquarters of Amorepacific (Seoul, Republic of Korea, 2017) harmonise the individual and the collective, the private and the public, work and respite.

Vertical aluminium fins across the glass facade provide solar shading to aid thermal conditions and natural ventilation, and create a translucency, encouraging a rapport between the building’s occupants, its neighbours and observers. Office space is counterbalanced by a public atrium, museum, library, auditorium and restaurants. A central courtyard allows views through to nearby buildings, and hanging gardens further engage the community inside with the elements outside.

At the Inagawa Cemetery Chapel and Visitor Centre (Hyogo, Japan, 2017), situated in the Hokusetsu Mountains, the physical and spiritual coexist, with places of solitude and gathering, for peace and seeking. These interconnected expressions are mirrored in the earth-toned monolithic buildings, stairs and pathways residing amidst the sloped terrain, and the secluded non-denominational chapel and visitor centre, that are juxtaposed diagonally from one another.

“We do not see an instantly recognisable David Chipperfield building in different cities, but different David Chipperfield buildings designed specifically for each circumstance. Each asserts its presence, even as his buildings create new connections with the neighbourhood,” continues the 2023 Citation.

“His architectural language balances consistency with the fundamental design principles and flexibility towards the local cultures. The work of David Chipperfield unifies European classicism, the complex nature of Britain and even the delicateness of Japan. It is the fruition of cultural diversity.”

Significant works also include the River and Rowing Museum (Henley-on-Thames, United Kingdom, 1997), BBC Scotland Headquarters (Glasgow, United Kingdom, 2007), Turner Contemporary (Margate, United Kingdom, 2011), Campus Saint Louis Art Museum (Missouri, United States of America, 2013), Campus Joachimstraße (Berlin, Germany, 2013), Museo Jumex (Mexico City, Mexico, 2013), One Pancras Square (London, United Kingdom, 2013), Royal Academy of Arts masterplan (London, United Kingdom, 2018), Hoxton Press (London, United Kingdom, 2018) and Kunsthaus Zürich (Zurich, Switzerland, 2020).

Chipperfield is the 52nd Laureate of the Pritzker Architecture Prize. He resides in London and leads additional offices in Berlin, Milan, Shanghai and Santiago de Compostela. The 2023 Pritzker Prize ceremony will be held in Athens, Greece, in May.

Full acknowledgement is given to https://www.pritzkerprize.com/ for the information in this article.

“The work of David Chipperfield is the fruition of cultural diversity.” – 2023 Citation

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