David Chipperfield - Royal Gold Medal
Experientially, the buildings are both light and fleeting, yet permanent and solid, managing to combine contradictory qualities, where delight and seriousness inhabit spaces simultaneously. At every level his work exhibits perseverance and resolve, qualities all too lacking in contemporary design. It is also an architecture with a determination to resolve detail and strategy at the same time, yet it avoids reverting to cliché.
His superb architectural oeuvre has been hard won. Being a groundbreaking architect is not easy. He has built his reputation on international competition, rising to the occasion time and time again to resolve complex briefs and sites with a precise conceptual clarity.
This clarity then informs the resulting architecture so that it is at once humanistic, abstract and monumental. His work is an art form, as his exhibition at the Design Museum (London) in 2009 showed so clearly, and it leaves the viewer asking questions, wanting more.
David Chipperfield has been a mentor to young architects around the world and inspires great work in others. His relevance goes further than the making of architecture to inform its culture.
So why is he a mentor? How does he manage to be so significant in an age of icons, fashions, allegiances and brands? And how does he avoid both the pitfalls of superstardom and those of the smaller world view of parochial practice?
He has achieved his position by bringing architecture to the fore. His work is at all times about pushing for the best-quality architecture possible, irrespective of the particular challenges of a project.
He champions architecture plain and simple, and is a testament to the persistent and dogged determination and inspirational talent required to make great work. He simply did not give up, sell out or change tack. He crafted his career.
The work matured, got stronger and continued to be commissioned, even if it felt at times as if it was destined to not materialize in Britain apart from in smaller projects like his beautiful shop interiors, his studio for Antony Gormley or the Henley River and Rowing Museum in the 1990s.
But finally the time has come. The Hepworth Wakefield and the Turner Contemporary beckon, as local, specific projects to counterpoint his grandes oeuvres in Berlin, Anchorage and Iowa. The list goes on and future projects of great stature can be glimpsed emerging around the world.
And beyond this string of elegant and uncompromisingly modern projects that are garnering accolades at the moment, his is an influence as much to do with the dissemination of ideas — of his projects appearing in books and journals from the earliest shows at the 9H Gallery in London (of which he was cofounder), in libraries and in exhibitions.
With his major show at the Design Museum, he took the display of his architecture to another level, combining giant models, working drawings and small maquettes.
And his role is not simply about showing his work. He has always shown generosity in his persistent commitment to teaching around the world in tandem with running a hugely successful and demanding practice. This is no mean feat.
His contribution extends to architectural discourse with lectures, and sitting on architectural juries for major competitions. He has been assessor in competitions for the New Art Gallery in Walsall, and the Rolex Learning Centre and a new Art Gallery project, both in Lausanne.
In 2003 he chaired the jury for the Mies van der Rohe Award. And his curating of the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, under the title of "Raw," again showed a commitment to extending architecture to a new audience without compromise.
He has often been asked why more great architecture does not seem to happen in Britain when we boast some of the world's best architects. But instead of being critical, he simply gets on with it, proving that, against the odds, good architecture does have a place in the UK.
And especially at times like this, we need people like David Chipperfield to remind us that the struggle can be worthwhile.
Discuss this article in the Architecture Forum...
Deborah Saunt is a director of the London architecture practice DSDHA, which she cofounded with David Hills in 1998. Saunt previously worked for Tony Fretton Architects and Long & Kentish Architects. She has taught at the École Polythechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland, the University of Cambridge, and the Architectural Association, and currently runs a studio with David Hills at London Metropolitan University. The DSDHA-designed Christ's College School in Guildford, England, was shortlisted for the 2010 Stirling Prize. Saunt's award citation for David Chipperfield is printed here with permission.