David Chipperfield: five thoughts on dangerous trends

Knight of modernism Sir David Chipperfield (b. 12/18/1953) is a name that is constantly heard. The most British architect, winner of RIBA awards, he has been sharply criticizing construction in the UK for the last twenty years, and Chipperfield’s buildings in the UK can be counted on one hand. Chipperfield is principled, unyielding, and loves order.

On the isolation of an architect  In the modern world, a famous architect resembles a stand with luxury perfume in a duty-free zone: he is on an illuminated pedestal, where you can’t reach. The architect is often divorced from reality and is far from the end client. This social isolation may also be aggravated by external circumstances: for example, in Britain, if Brexit takes place, the prospects for architects are very bleak. Not so much in an economic sense, but in a cultural one. The cultural sector and architecture, as an important component of it, should not be put under pressure by either economics or politics.

About renders, layouts, and sketches There is a situation in architecture that personally depresses me. Nobody talks about architecture from the point of view of use and already accumulated experience; most people focus on renderings. This is a very dangerous practice. Competitions are held, the most (as it seems) expressive ones win, they are built, and in the end it turns out that the buildings are not nearly as convenient to use as it seemed from the picture. Almost no one is resisting this dangerous trend. The result is an erosion of trust in the quality of the buildings constructed and in the architects themselves. 

The best way to avoid mistakes at the design stage is to create full-scale mockups. Only large-size models should be submitted to both clients and competitive discussions. Of course, now in any project, both 3D modeling and computer sketches are used (it would be strange to do without them), but only on the basis of the layout can the project be developed, supplemented, and discussed. 

I don’t attach much importance to sketches: at the very beginning of development they are of little help, projects are usually too complex to easily outline all the details with a stroke. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth of the architect who can sketch an entire building out of his head in a couple of seconds. This is not realistic. But an outline is a useful discussion tool when you need to clarify specific details.

About globalization in architecture For me today there is no “international style” in architecture. Those who talk about globalization and believe that everything will soon look the same are mistaken. Architecture is here to stay, it is a long-term project, and every place, every country—China, Mexico, the United States—demands to be approached in its own way. It’s unlikely that anyone will like it if in every country I offer the same set of dishes without the ability to change it. Or they will replace the typical dish for this area with a tasteless “protein shake” from a blender, where all the products are mixed. You cannot deprive things of their meaning, this will lead to an impoverished reality and deprive you of the subtlety of understanding. There is no need to get rid of the romantic approach, which implied a difference in styles and directions.

Study architecture extensively, travel, try to see as many real objects as possible. Capture the sensations inside and around the building. Looking at a flat picture or screen is too superficial. 

About designing for museums You know, there is an expression that an artist has no worse doctor than an architect. Because the artist cannot imagine in what space his works will then be exhibited. More precisely, you can imagine, and so far most often it is a museum of the 19th century: a series of galleries flow into one another, and there is not enough light or space for visitors. Lately, I often have to design museums: I try to plan enough space for public areas, cloakrooms, and cafes. But the most important thing in a museum is light, and here a lot has to be reinvented since large windows in museums are often impossible due to hanging, but nevertheless, they are needed, and not only in the form of a glass ceiling. Perhaps along the line where the ceiling meets the wall or narrow vertical stripes. Another interesting question, the answer to which the museum will never give the architect at the design stage: what will be exhibited in each specific room. After all, sculpture and painting require completely different lighting. 

About saving material The main paradox of our time is that we must consume less to save the environment, and at the same time buy more to save the economy. How to find balance? It is important that architecture is honest in this matter. In an architectural composition, what is important is what is left of what is necessary, and not what else can be added to it. Michelangelo’s principle “I just cut off everything unnecessary” works. Yes, my buildings are laconic, but I always try to make them in such a way that the entire building turns out to be greater than the sum of all its parts.

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