David Chipperfield

by Branka Bozic

David Chipperfield

Impostor syndrome is a phenomenon that occurs in people who doubt their own achievements. No matter how successful they are, for them it’s just luck. Among those people is one globally recognized architect, David Chipperfield. We easily find the answer to the question how much did he achieve. Along his full name, Sir David Alan Chipperfield, words like: CBE, RA, RIBA and RDI often appear. What do they mean and in what way do they testify about his accomplishments?

Opposing Beliefs

David Chipperfield was born in London, in 1953, where his parents ran a successful company. Despite company’s development, his father’s wish was that his family lived in a quiet environment. Together, they made a decision to move to a farm in Devon County, south-west from London. Metropolis’ fast life was changed for rural area near the seaside. Chipperfield grew up in a lovely environment. He attended Wellington School with a wish to become a veterinarian. This required entering Medical Faculty and excellent grades for that. He wasn’t very ambitious; he would rather enjoy sport or Art. Although many people considered him to be talented for these activities, he regarded these achievements only as fruits of commitment. He was convinced that after high school he didn’t have any qualifications for any kind of further education.

His Art teacher wasn’t willing to give up on Chipperfield’s talents. He had affection towards architecture so he encouraged David to enter Kingston School of Art. Chipperfield returned to London and thanks to his persistence, he finished his studies in 1976. He remembered this period: 

Commitment can take you a long way. That was an enormous lesson to me. I wanted to win more than other people wanted to win, and I was willing to put the time in.” After finishing school, he was tirelessly searching for new environment to improve. Soon, he decided to go to the epicenter of radical ideas: the Architectural Association. During the mid – 20th century, utopian ideas that suggested solutions to future problems were popular in this school. Although he graduated in 1977, he found himself being too conservative for a surrounding like that. He preferred simple, modernistic approaches. From the Architectural Association period, he remembered Zaha Hadid mostly. He claimed that she was an exceptional student and without her help he wouldn’t be able to complete the studies.  

International Frameworks

Since 1978, he started working for some representatives of the high-tech architecture: Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Douglas Stephen. Under these names, numerous competitive solutions that would later affect the development of Chipperfield’s independent career, were made. They found the sources of “fresh” ideas in Italian magazines Domus and Casabella. They were a glimpse to current world оf design, authority talking about the newest trends. 

He founded his own practice in 1985, by the name of David Chipperfield Architects. Bureau was soon engaged to give a solution for the store interior of Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake. As the project fit perfectly into Miyake’s work philosophy, Chipperfield gained his reputation abruptly. Shortly after, David went to Japan, where he designed objects for the first time. He respected traditional Japanese architecture and took care about the surroundings. He appreciated context in every possible sense, from location, people, customs, culture and history. In this period, David defined his goals for the first time, he didn’t want to work for profit but for design’s quality. 

David Chipperfield rarely speaks about his work; his lectures are focused on the artists’ role in the society. ”Architects used to work for the common good and now we work for the market. So I think that this Corona crisis is forcing everybody to rethink things that we fundamentally believe.“

He believes that we should all have moral responsibility towards the surrounding, to resist formalist approaches above all. If we want to understand and improve the world around us, our solutions must be logical and rational. Trends are transient unlike social values.

Chipperfield’s bureau offices are located in London, Berlin, Shanghai and Milan. They have hundreds of different, international projects. Opus implies furniture, urbanistic solutions, public and private objects. Some of their prominent objects are Neues Museum in Berlin, Amorepacific headquarters in Seoul and The Hepworth Wakefield museum in England. 

The Release of the Character

Chipperfield’s early work could be identified with modernistic furniture, without many variations. Clear, precise classic. Practical, modular pieces which re-examined relations. Harmony between full and empty, lines and surfaces. Armchair and sofa design prevailed in this period.

Although he resisted significant experimenting, he started releasing his creativity during the first decade of 2000’s. The Piana folding chair was designed during this period. Chair was designed for Alessi and produced within Lamm. It was presented at Milan Design Week showing Chipperfield’s consistency in his thrifty, minimalist approach. Made of 100% recycled polypropylene, chair is reinforced with glass fiber. Final layer was made in rough matte finish, which was offered in six different colors by the manufacturer. The Piana is actually a good example of a thoughtful design. Easily portable, it turns from a surface to furniture in one moveBy rotating around the central axis, synchronized system becomes a chair. Construction details are skillfully hidden with a fine mechanism. This chair is permanently displayed at MoMA. 

Several years after, he designed the Vigo Lamps collection for Italian manufacturer Artemide.  There are three versions – for ceiling, wall and floor. Two overlapping cones make the essence. The inner one is made of black aluminum and the outer one of borosilicate glass, trimmed with white ribbon. Materials and colors are in contrast but they give an impression of  harmonious entity with the form. Ceiling lamp adds futuristic character to a room while the other two are hanged on horizontal hook resembling old-fashioned lanterns thus. 

e15 Collaboration

During 20 years of e15 Company, he has designed Fayland Table, Fawley Bench and Langley Stool. David Chipperfield reminded everyone about the symbiosis between projecting objects and designing furniture. “The initial idea for the Fayland Table came from a private project in a rural setting in England.“ Traditional carpenter’s techniques were applied, the sincerity of materials was emphasized. While a thin protective layer is almost invisible, the beauty of oak and walnut is left almost untouched. When we look at the form of this furniture, we notice strong contrast between horizontal and vertical linesAll elements are so dominant that furniture itself creates the space. The solution is smart and fits contemporary life and work. There’s no strict definition on how it can be used. Table can be used as a dining or working one, while Langley Stool can be used as a night table for bedrooms as well. 

This collaboration was continued in 2018, through more elegant furniture. Chipperfield remained faithful to nature, wood was still the subject of items. Casual Basis series implies several tables which could be used as single ones or in groups. Catalogue offers shorter and higher versions, square or round. They are adjustable to public and private areas, e15 describes them on their website as: “It does not interfere with or redefine work habits, yet it facilitates different styles of working.

Witnesses of a Great Career

When he compares himself with others, David Chipperfield says: “ I feel a bit of a fake“. Regarding accomplishments, CBE is a British order that is given to those who contribute to science and art. He was awarded the Order in 2004 for his accomplishments in architecture. RDI (Royal Designer for Industry) came two years later having a goal to point out to designers’ qualities and keep high standards of industrial design in that way. RA, Royal Academy of Arts, decorated him in 2008. The work of this Academy is based on helping and promoting Art. RIBA Award or Royal Institute of British Architects is one of the most prominent international awards. Besides already mentioned awards, there are many more that point to one thing. We shouldn’t listen to Chipperfield when he regards himself as “fake”.  

What follows is one real description of Chipperfield’s personality. The editor of Domus Magazine, Walter Mariotti, describes him briefly: “Sir David Chipperfield is a British gentleman, an intellectual and an acclaimed architect who lives in London and works around the world. His British personality is tinged with a German feel for geometric order, a feisty Mediterranean spirit, a taste for Spanish music, and an Italian sense of humor.“ The conclusion is that he is after all one multi –talented perfectionist. 

The Accordance of the Artist

What we should “listen to” when it comes to Chipperfield is his work. When we say work, we don’t only mean material but oral legacy as well. When he was a curator of Venice Biennale in 2012, he referred to it as “Common Ground”. The message of this slogan reminded all artists that we aren’t competing with each other. We share one, mutual canvas which should contribute to society’s development: “Architects must establish a better relationship with society to become more useful. I wanted to demonstrate the power of architecture instead of the power of architects. We cannot only be designers of monuments, we also have to be designers of society, to engage with it and help it.

The lack of self-confidence couldn’t stifle clear visions. Uncompromising attitudes set this British at the top of the scene. He reminds: “I’m not so interested in convincing the architectural community that I’m a genius.“ No Chipperfield, don’t waste your time, you simply are a genius. 

Featured image: MX IT DAVID CHIPPERFIELD ARCHITECTS by Irvin Tobias/Secretaría de Cultura de la Ciudad de México is licensed under CC BY 2.0 / cropped from original



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