Sir David Alan Chipperfield Wins the 2023 Pritzker Prize

Civic architect, urban planner and activist, Sir David Alan Chipperfield CH is the 2023 Laureate of The Pritzker Architecture Prize, the award that is regarded internationally as architecture’s highest honour.

Subtle yet powerful, subdued yet elegant, Sir David Alan Chipperfield CH is a prolific architect who is radical in his restraint, demonstrating his reverence for history and culture while honouring the preexisting built and natural environments, as he reimagines functionality and accessibility of new buildings, renovations and restorations through timeless modern design that confronts climate urgencies, transforms social relationships, and reinvigorates cities.

This particular character of Sir Chipperfield is most evident in the refurbishment of The Ned Qatar, that occupies the city’s former Ministry of the Interior building, located on the Corniche waterfront with views over the Persian Sea. Bold in is architecural language, the structure becomes the embellishment, a respectful gesture to the previous Lebanese architect William Sednaoui who designed this building in the 1960s.

But what makes the architect even more interesting is his current pursuit, an addition to his busy architecural practice, of running a local bar. In 2020,  Sir Chipperfield and his wife, Evelyn Stern, opened a bar in the coastal town of Corrubedo, Galicia, Spain. Managed by the couple’s daughter, Celest, the Bar do Porto is the result of the couple’s interest in regional cuisine, and part of a larger effort by the architect to value and preserve the culture of Galicia. This isn’t Chipperfield’s only food-related initiative, according to Archdaily, the Chipperfield Kantine, located at the David Chipperfield Architects Berlin Campus, serves both office employees and the general public with vegetarian food made with fresh organic products.

“I am so 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. on his award “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.”

His built works, spanning over four decades, are expansive in typology and geography, including over 100 works ranging from civic, cultural and academic buildings to residences and urban master planning throughout Asia, Europe and North America.

But this architect, even with his span of decades in design, feels that he is not talented enough when in comparision with his fellow contemporaries like Renzo Piano and that reveals the greatness of Chipperfield.  “Determination and commitment can compensate for a talent,” he said to Dezeen. “This is a discussion I have with my wife a lot, I don’t believe I’m that talented as an architect, probably just more persevering.” And we love him even more for being so honest about his insecurities, a trait that is evident in most architects.

The 2023 Jury Citation of the Laureate, states, in part, “This commitment to an architecture of understated but transformative civic presence and the definition—even through private commission  —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 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 civilization.”

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 for Amorepacific (Seoul, Republic of Korea, 2017) harmonise the individual and the collective, the private and the public, work and respite.

Vertical aluminum fins across the glass façade 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 equipoised 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 Center (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 center that are juxtaposed diagonal 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.”

We pick 5 of the most significant works by Sir Chipperfield that glorify all his sensibilites:

  1. River and Rowing Museum (Henley-on-Thames, United Kingdom, 1997)

Located on the south bank of the Thames, the River and Rowing Museum, exhibiting rowing boats, the history of the sport, the River Thames and the town of Henley, marked Chipperfield’s first building in his native England. Designed during a time when the future of modern architecture seemed uncertain in Great Britain, this building both assimilated with and deviated from a traditional English neighborhood. Locality is reassured in its design, featuring clerestory and pitched roofs inspired by river boathouses and the traditional wooden barns of Oxfordshire, and clad with untreated green English oak. Yet two volumes of transparent glass bases, elevated on concrete pillars to withstand flooding, offer a subtle but powerful discourse between modernity and heritage.

   2. BBC Scotland headquarters (Glasgow, United Kingdom, 2007)

Located at the former Govan Graving Docks, an abandoned shipbuilding site along the River Clyde, the BBC Scotland Headquarters is an embodiment of communication. Offering a wide range of outputs, from television and radio broadcasts to digital media, the company requires diverse functionalities, including studio spaces and supporting production and technological facilities. Both seclusion and society are necessary, anchored by the requisites of collaboration and dialogue. An expansive central atrium, featuring a winding staircase and generous tiered promenades, serves as a focal point and expression of openness that allows circulation while prompting informal meetings and welcoming gathering spaces. Like spaces are stacked, with enclosed studios and small offices in the center of the building, and larger offices that welcome views of the river on either side.

 3. Royal Academy of Arts masterplan (London, United Kingdom, 2018)

The masterplan for the venerable Royal Academy of Arts, founded in 1768, unites Burlington House on Piccadilly, its longstanding building since 1868, and 6 Burlington Gardens, a former Senate House acquired by the institution in 1998. The historic integrity of the buildings were preserved through restorations in collaboration with Julian Harrap Architects, but Chipperfield applied a modern intervention to bridge the two buildings, figuratively and literally.

The concrete bridge establishes a new urban identity, overlooking a new sculpture garden, connecting the two opposite entrances that served each of the formerly separate buildings, and providing a new public route between Piccadilly and Burlington Gardens. A light renovation upgraded the main building, while rooms in Burlington Gardens are repurposed to satisfy the evolved needs of its inhabitants—a newly installed architecture space expands the school’s program; a theater is reinstated, but with a sunken floor and circular in shape; a senate room now serves as a cafeteria; and laboratory rooms have become gallery spaces

4.  The Neues Museum, 2009, Berlin, Germany

The Neues Museum, originally constructed in the mid-19th century and left devastated and inhabitable 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.

5.  The Hepworth Wakefield, 2011, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Located at the historic Wakefield waterfront conservation district at a bend of the River Calder, The Hepworth Wakefield is exposed on all sides and composed of ten interlinked trapezoidal volumes, each singular in size and angle.

Accessible only via footbridge, the building appears to rise out of the river, which also serves as a source of a passive air system that aids heating and cooling efficiencies.

The exterior, with its sloped roofs, responds visually to the neighboring mills, warehouses and industrial buildings, while the varying interior galleries are scaled to complement the range of forms by the late artist Barbara Hepworth. The pitched ceilings admit intentional and diffused sunlight to accommodate sensitive works on paper, large plasters and sculptures located upstairs. Ground floor programming is reserved for public access, including a performance space, a learning studio and a cafeteria.

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 this May.