Photos by Matthias Ziegler
Words by Kimberly Bradley

 

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.

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There’s an urgency to Chipperfield’s voice when he discusses these new realities. He’s also just arrived from abroad and his phone buzzes with important notifications, but that’s par for the course. For him, the more pressing global challenges are broadly societal and environmental, and grounded in diminishing resources. It’s not just in architecture. Our overall attitude to consumption and energy use has to change. We can’t just keep taking things out of the fridge, so to speak, says the architect. At some point we have to start restocking. And these issues are no longer in the distance; our world is going to shift completely in the next fifty years.

 

 

 

 

Chipperfield, who turned 65 in December 2018, has the luxury of the long view. His speech is thoughtful, measured, and sometimes peppered with dry humor. Graduating from the Architectural Association in London in the late 1970s, he worked for Lord Richard Rogers and Lord Norman Foster before opening his own office in 1985. Chipperfield’s first major commission was designing a shop for Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake in London, kicking off a five-year period of working in Japan. In the subsequent years his practice grew steadily; approximately 300 people currently work for Chipperfield worldwide, and more than 100 constructions around the world have won more than 100 prestigious awards.

 

 

Chipperfield opened this Berlin office, not far from Rosenthaler Platz, twenty-one years ago, and it’s slowly expanded since then. The serene courtyard setting incorporates an older loft building and Chipperfield’s typical linear additions: the latter with office space, a ground-floor conference room, and a canteen for employees that’s also open to the public and has become a popular lunch spot for hip local foodies.

 

 

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