About David Chipperfield ArchitectsVisit Website
David Chipperfield is one of the UK’s most successful architectural exports, which is fortunate because his spare yet luxurious and thoughtful Modernism has been constantly overlooked in his home country. Chipperfield has had to build his reputation in Germany, Japan, Spain, Italy and now the US. This is perhaps because his work does not fit into the in-your-face showmanship of the UK’s high-tech architectural establishment, which has provided such a service to the commercial world. Chipperfield’s work – in concrete, glass, stone and timber – is, by comparison, much more subtle.
That said, he is a respected player within the UK architectural scene. He was a founder of the short-lived but influential 9H architecture gallery and has been mentor to a healthy crop of young British practices, who have steadily emerged from his office. He is also a much sought-after visiting critic at schools of architecture around the world.
Born in 1953 in London, Chipperfield trained at the Architectural Association and worked for Douglas Stephen, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster. These credentials have equipped him with a technical know-how that he uses as a tool rather than as a stylistic end in itself. He established his London practice in 1984 (in a much-praised office building of his own design) but, after failing to make much headway in the UK, opened an office in Tokyo in 1987 on the back of a variety of high-end projects includ¬ing shops for Issey Miyake and a design showroom in Kyoto. The Japanese move was a natural one for Chipperfield, whose work, with its clean lines, unfussy details and faith in smooth expanses of natural materials, has always incorporated a Zen-like quietude. His approach can superficially look minimalist but this is really the result of Chipperfield’s functionalism.
Commissions in Germany and Spain started to flow in but none of any significance in the UK, which for a nation of shopkeepers can be rather sniffy about architects who have made their reputation serving the ephemeral world of restaurants and boutiques. His UK break was the award-winning River and Rowing Museum in Henley-on-Thames (1997), which reinterpreted timber boathouse vernacular in a contemporary way. A fit-out by another practice, however, has prevented it from becoming a good example of the totality of Chipperfield’s vision, which extends to furniture and other interior products.
His sensitivity to tradition has, in recent years, won him a number of important ongoing projects in Europe, including the masterplanning and reordering of Berlin’s Neues Museum and its related institutions and the extension of the San Michele Cemetery in Venice, which involves building a new island in the lagoon. He has also won competitions to build a court complex in Salerno, Italy, and the Davenport Art Museum in Iowa. With offices now open in the US and Germany, Chipperfield is taking on the role he deserves on the international stage. Even back in the UK, his profile is on the rise with commissions to design the British Film Institute (presently bogged down within the two-decade-long struggle to rebuild London’s South Bank arts precinct) and a new headquarters building for the BBC in Glasgow. He may yet, like Alvar Aalto, be a prophet in his own country.