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A reflection on Architecture

Essentials. David Chipperfield Architects 1985-2015

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A general view of Essentials. David Chipperfield Architects 1985-2015 that can be visited in ICO Museum of Madrid. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

Curated by Fulvio Irace, professor of History and Contemporary Criticism at the School of Design of the Politecnico of Milan, and designed by David Chipperfield Architects, the ICO Foundation has organized the exhibition: Essentials. David Chipperfield Architects 1985-2015, that reflects on some of their key projects over the last 30 years and the central role that architectural models play in their working method. It could be visited at the ICO Museum of Madrid until January 24th, 2016.

 The British architect David Chipperfield (London, 1953) is today one of the reference figures of world architecture. The secret of his successful career is none other than their personal effort to be true to himself and his ideas. As Chipperfield like to put it, “Architecture is (according to Benjamin) the art of ‘digging’:  it is about approaching things by trying to give meaning, by finding that meaning in something that is common”.

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Model of the Berlin Neues Museum, possibly the most important project of David Chipperfield Architects to date. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz.

Thanks to the clarity of his decisions and his capacity to manage his international acknowledgment, what started as an almost artisanal laboratory has become one of the most successful architectural practices, developing a reputation for his refined design. A leading character of world architecture, David Chipperfield has built museums, private offices and homes, and public buildings around the world.

Essentials. David Chipperfield Architects 1985-2015 is a comprehensive survey of the work of this renowned architect from 1985 to the present. The exhibition brings together for the first time in Madrid over thirty physical models projects for different cities that will allow us to approach the personal perception of light and space of Chipperfield’s architectural work.

Architecture must speak for itself

The exhibit is interesting because show visitors the architectural universe of David Chipperfield; his perception of space tailored to man; the fusion of tradition and innovation in his work; his consistent quest of urban and architectural continuity between the existing and the new; as well as the importance of models as part of the work method at his studio.

Also, it is a continual invitation to reflect on the architecture and how new technologies affect the physical display of ideas. It sets out to explore an experience that stands out for the originality and consistency of its history, particularly at a time when the practice of architecture is threatened by the cult of image.

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A video installation welcomes visitors and introduce them to the David Chipperfield architectural world. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

The exhibition is divided in four parts. On the ground floor of Ico Museum, a video reviews the Chipperfield architectural work through an interesting interview in which he gives his points of view on architectural creation.

Chipperfield says: “The preparation of this exhibition has helped me try to articulate my main concern with the social role of architecture. In recent times, it has become a very isolated profession that slowly seems to be losing its connection with society. Personally, I believe that it is important to try to explain the role of architecture to the general public”. His point of view makes me think about how important is that architects work outside the office, trying to have direct contact with the people and their needs.

Video by ICO Foundation.

On possible influences of Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, Chipperfield says that their architectures “are formally completely different”. He thinks about the time he worked with them as a formative stage, which coincided with the moment when these studies were primarily concerned about the relationship between architecture and society. Chipperfield thinks that “these original ideas sometimes hide behind a more ‘exhibitionist architecture’, although their practical foundation still remains”.


Tradition and innovation

The first hall of the exhibition presents the work done by David Chipperfield in historic buildings, through a selection of models of the Neues Museum in Berlin, one of their most important works, together with a splendid photographic report of the building by Candida Höfer.

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Models of the Neues Museum in Berlin. The project follows the principles of restoration, repair and intervention, rather than reconstruction. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

            The Neues Museum is an eloquent and richly rewarding assertion of the poetic power of an architecture based on memory rather than novelty. It is a recreation of the past from today.

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Neues Museum, Berlin. Lamina IX. Ethnographic Room, by Candia Höfer. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

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Neues Museum, Berlin, by Candia Höfer. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

Comfortable with a both innovation and history, David Chipperfield Architects has championed a new attitude working within a complex architectural landscape that reflects some modesty, mixed with a clear but quiet confidence in his own place in time. The physical models of the San Michele Cemetery in Venice, Milan’s Sforcesco Castle or the original proposal for the Naga Museum in Sudan are equally rooted in this understanding of the importance of architectural history.

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Model of Milan´s Sforcesco Castle. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

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Model of the Naga Museum in Sudan. The primary function of this museum is to provide basic shelter for ancient artifacts, protecting them from the sun, sandstorms and looters. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

The upper level of the exhibition shows the most important projects undertaken by the architect in some of the most important cities in the world. The great singularity of its architecture is the man, the people who inhabit it are the real protagonists, not the building itself. Perhaps that is why he has worked extensively in residential architecture, but not only, also in museums, public works, etc.

Among the exhibits, it is necessary to highlight the models of the Jumex Museum in Mexico City that show all its conceptual development; The Hepworth Wakefield West Yorkshirein United Kingdom, the German Gallery ‘Am Kupfergraben 10’ in Berlin, etc.

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The models of the Jumex Museum in Mexico City that show all its conceptual development. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

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The Jumex Museum in Mexico City. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

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The Hepworth Wakefield West Yorkshire, United Kingdom, 2003-2011. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

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The German Gallery´Am Kupfergraben 10´in Berlin, 2003-2007. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

In Spain, where he used to come and spend the summer, he built his own house in a small Galician town, Corrubedo.

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David Chipperfield´s house in Corrubedo, Galicia. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz

It has raised some public buildings as the City of Justice of Barcelona and the ‘Veles e Vents’ building for the America’s Cup in Valencia, among others.

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The “Veles e Vents” building for the America´s Cup in Valencia. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz.

In Madrid, in addition to the 3rd floor of the famous Hotel Puerta de América, he created social housing for the Municipal Housing Company, the Verona 203A in Villaverde district.

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Model of Villaverde Social Housing. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz 

For me, it is interesting to see how the working model is linked to conceptual development. Its objective is not only to explore new possibilities but also, and above all, to refer back to reality. Often quickly achieved by simple means and easily worked materials, they allow for instantaneous changes, and serve as a tactile connection to the core exercise of architecture, defining the space around us.

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The physical models serve as a tactile connection to the core exercise of architecture, defining the space round us. Photo by Fernando de la Cruz.

In this point, I wonder what the future of architecture and the place that the traditional physical models occupy. On working with computer models, David Chipperfield believes that  these models offer something of an illusion of architecture and a more focused image, especially in the most conceptual phases of the project and in competitions, rather than the ideas of the conceptual part of the project. Moreover, computers allow speed when it is necessary to make some changes in the work. Architects must consider whether the outcome is really the end result or the project will continue to change forever…

The final reflection is that perhaps we have not yet found the best way to work with computer models and renderings. But, how is the David Chipperfield Architects’ work method? In the words of Rik Nys, Director of Design DCA, “it is a kind of laboratory where formal experiments performed in the recording medium are finished and adjusting with the aid of computers located on the flanks”. Tradition and modernity go hand in hand. 

The exhibition ends with an audiovisual presentation about the intervention in the Neues Museum in which Chipperfield explains what had been consisted the renovations and expansions carried out.

A long career

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Davis Chipperfield. Photo by Julio César González/Fundación ICO

David Chipperfield studied at Kingston School of Art and the Architectural Association in London. After graduating, he worked at the practices of Douglas Stephen, Richard Rogers and Norman Foster, until setting up his own studio in 1985 under the name David Chipperfield Architects. Today, he also has offices in Berlin, Milan and Shanghai.

Chipperfield has combined his work in studio with teaching as a professor of design at various schools of architecture in the UK, as well as in several European and American universities.

The practice has more than 100 international awards and citations for design excellence, including Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), Royal Fine Art Commission (RFAC) and American Institute of Architects (AIA) awards, as well as the RIBA Stirling Prize in 2007, and the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture – Mies van der Rohe Award in 2011. David Chipperfield received the 2011 RIBA Royal Gold Medal and the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale in 2013, in recognition of a lifetime’s work.

The current projects by David Chipperfield Architects include:

  • The Nobel Centre in Stockholm.
  • The an extension to the Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland.
  • The restoration of the Neue National Galerie in Berlin.
  • The James Simon Galerie, a new entrance building on Museum Island in Berlin.
  • A 33-storey mixed-use tower overlooking Bryant Park in New York.
  • A new wing for modern and contemporary art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York
  • A masterplan for the Royal Academy of Arts in London
  • James Simon Gallery on Museum Island in Berlin;
  • Elizabeth House, a mixed-use project near Waterloo Station, London;
  • The Palace of Justice in Salerno, Italy;
  • The headquarters of the South Korean cosmetics company Amorepacific  in Seoul.

Elena Trujillo Hervás


Essentials. David Chipperfield Architects 1985-2015

Museo Ico. Calle Zorrilla, 3. Madrid.

Till January 24th, 2016.







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