We have no power, states architect David Chipperfield as he sits at a long conference-room table in his Berlin-Mitte office. Architects have no power; designers have no power … unless we leverage it.
Declarations of powerlessness may seem odd coming from one of the world’s best-known architects—one whose mere presence evokes a sovereign strength and whose buildings have become timeless beacons of culture, and sometimes commerce, in cities around the world. But in the contemporary world’s hyper-financialized economic and political climate, it’s a fact that architects, even those of Chipperfield’s stature, are tethered to the whims and agendas of other decision-makers—not least politicians, real-estate developers and investors.
We’ve been working for investors and not society. That has to change, says the British architect, who has made subtlety and serenity his signature. For decades, Chipperfield has worked on a wide range of building typologies around the world—private homes, business headquarters, museums and other cultural structures—from offices in London, Berlin, Milan, and Shanghai. At one time, he recalls, architecture was far more connected to social advocacy. Architects built schools, efficient and affordable housing projects, and cities differently than they do today. Architecture has become marginalized and more about the special moments: the museum, the glamorous railway station, he says. We architects are not involved so much anymore in the way our cities are built.